I got a great question from someone who attended a Practical Project Management seminar recently, which reminded me just how valuable the Time – Cost – Quality Triangle is as a tool. It may not give you the answers you need, but it will almost always clarify the problem.
This particular delegate was a Financial Controller for a mid-sized firm. He asked if I could help him figure out how to solve a thorny problem.
“I produce end of month figures for my Board two weeks or so after month end. My Managing Director wants the figures sooner. They are complex to assemble and I’ve tried everything I can think of to speed up the process.
What else can I do?”
The answer to his problem lies in understanding the Time – Cost – Quality triangle, and how it can apply outside of the project environment.
When you have optimised a process, you can’t get more of one of these, without compromising the others. This is why it is also known as the “Triple Constraint”.
In this case, his MD wanted him to improve the time component. He could only do so by reducing the quality or by incurring extra cost. Let’s look at these one at a time.
One way to get figures more quickly is to invest more in the process – by by either:
- bringing in more resources to collect and analyse the data,
- compelling front line staff to prioritise reporting, or
- introducing a better, more automated system.
If his MD were not keen to invest more money or resources, then he would have to compromise on the quality. He could do this, for example, by producing “quick figures” based on incomplete data and analysis at the end of week one, then offer a narrative on risk in week two, delivering final figures at the end of week three. Alternatively, he could reduce the breadth of analysis he delivers, offering accurate figures on a small amount of key management information quickly, then turn his attention to the full set of information later.
The “so what?”
Assess the relative priorities of time, cost and quality; adjust your process to meet these priorities.
Here, time is most important, so either ask for the resources to meet the priority, or agree how to trim the quality while retaining confidence in good, professional financial control.