Monday, March 15, 2010

You CAN Have Your Cake and Eat It Too

Anybody who has studied for the PMP Exam, or who has undergone extensive Project Management training, has had the concept of The Triple Constaints pounded into their head over and over again. If you don't know, The Triple Constaints (aka the Project Management Triangle) are Cost, Schedule, and Scope. This photo illustrates:

The Assumption

The idea is that if you alter one constraint, you affect one or both of the other two. For example, if you want to reduce the project budget, you will have to lengthen the schedule and/or sacrifice scope. In other words, you can't have your cake and eat it too. "Pick two, but you can't have all three!" is a common refrain. Common wisdom says that if you violate the Triple Constraints, then the item in the center of the diagram, Quality, will erode.

I get it, but I don't accept it.

I agree that under static circumstances, the Triple Constraint theory holds true. However, I don't believe projects are static circumstances. In other words, I think we have the ability to improve our circumstances. How can we do this?

We can reduce waste.

Waste is present on all projects, and manifests itself in many forms, most of which we are way too familiar with: re-work resulting from defects, delays resulting from late delivery of needed materials and information, extra processing resulting from poorly designed work flows, and on and on. In addition to the waste itself being harmful to our projects, it also has the side-effect of creating overburden on our people, which brings a whole new set of HR-related problems. Waste is truly evil.

Fortunately, there are many ways to attack waste, most of which are within the grasp of any project manager. Lean, as a project management methodology, offers a wide array of process improvement tools that have been successfully and repeatedly shown to reduce waste on a wide range of projects. Furthermore, beyond lean tools, lean culture instills in organizations a higher awareness of, and stronger problem-solving skills for eliminating, waste. Eliminating waste is what lean project managers do best.

The Opportunity

If we can harness lean thinking to eliminate waste, we can create huge opportunities. Reducing waste means fewer resources being assigned to inefficient activities. It means less delays and fewer defects. It means finding ways to tailor the scope of the project to what the customer actually values.

Imagine being able to cut costs AND shorten the schedule WITHOUT sacrificing scope. Imagine Quality actually improving when all this is happening. Sounds like a pie-in-the-sky fantasy to most project managers, right? Well, for project managers who know how to attack waste, it's a reality.


Ryno said...

Great article, I'm going to pass this on to my co-workers.

Mark Graban said...

We're working hard to change that mindset in healthcare, as well. The tradeoffs are typically seen with cost, quality, and waiting time (access).

With Lean, hospitals are improving care in a way that improves quality, reduces cost, AND reduces hospital length of stay. This would seem to be unthinkable, but it's possible with Lean -- breaking away from the old static view. When we eliminate waste and improve processes, great things happen.