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Good, Cheap, or Fast? How to Make the Triple Constraint Work for You


triple constraint"All right, we've got good, fast, and cheap: Pick two."

It's quite likely you've heard some version of the above statement in reference to a project. Or maybe you've seen in on a yellowing flier on the bulletin board at an automotive shop. You may have even used it yourself when discussing a project with a client. But did you know that the "good/fast/cheap" trifecta is actually a representation of the Triple Constraint? If you're not familiar with that term, you may know it as the "Project Management Triangle" or the "Iron Triangle."

The triple constraints referred to in the triangle are time, cost, and scope. In the "good/fast/cheap" representation, scope is replaced by quality (the "good"). There are a number of different variations and offshoots of the Project Management Triangle, but for our purposes, we're going to deal with the "good/fast/cheap" representation.

The basic idea is that you can't alter any one of the sides of the triangle without affecting at least one of the other two. For example: If a client wants something fast, either the quality/scope is going to suffer due to the hastiness of the work, or the cost is going to increase, due to the increased commitment of time -- likely at the expense of other projects, either professional or personal -- it will take to accomplish the tasks necessary.

Here's where the "Pick two" comes in: You can have good and fast, but it will be expensive; you can have good and cheap, but it won't be fast; and you can have fast and cheap, but the quality will suffer.

Clear Communication with a Client

I call it the "3 'C's." It's a little something I came up with…well, this morning. I find that giving a concept an alliterative name -- or shapes, in the case of the Project Management Triangle -- lends it gravitas. "Client communication"? That's the average business-speak version. "The 3 'C's"? Now that's the Morgan Freeman version. See? Instant gravitas!

When it comes to discussing a project with a client -- or even a potential client -- the Triangle can be a valuable tool. Determine which side of the Triangle is most important to the client, and clearly lay out to them how this will affect the other two constraints. This will help to assure that your client knows from the get-go what to expect from your work. Don't over-promise and under-deliver. You'll only frustrate the client, and if you value customer satisfaction as much as you should and don't deliver what you promised when you promised, you'll likely end up refunding all or part of what the customer paid or feel compelled to give free or discounted services in the future. All of these things cost you money, not to mention the goodwill and trust -- and possible future business -- of a client.

If you're feeling pressured to commit to more you're capable of due to an unreasonably demanding client, you have to ask yourself: Is this a client I can please? Is their business worth the toll it's going to cause in my life and in my business? Sometimes the answer to the latter question is based on financial need; if it's a pricey project that will provide you with much-needed income, sometimes you have to bite the bullet and do what's required. But know that going in, and understand that it's still important to be honest with the client about the challenges ahead, so they know what they're getting into.

Can you think of other examples of how the Triple Constraint can be used in your favor? Please share them with THINQ in the comments!

Image credit: Juan Freire


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