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Project Management When They Want it Fast, Good, and Cheap

project managementI used to design rockets for NASA. Here’s a summary of some important concepts and time-management tips that I learned about project management. They can save you time and trouble as you move your projects forward and unexpected things come up.

One of the bigger time-management challenges to completing a project successfully is to manage the “triple constraints.” A constraint is any major area of limitation on the project Typically, the big three constraints are: time, cost, and scope or quality of the project.

If you’re going to manage the project successfully, make sure you have clearly defined, measurable objectives. Then figure out which constraint is the most important. For example, if the project is driven by a tight deadline that can’t be moved, time is the constraint on which to focus.

If you have a lot of time to complete the project, but don’t have a big budget, focus on whatever you can do to keep costs under control.

If you have a lot of time and money and it’s critical that the project have high-quality features, then it might be okay to spend extra time and money if it’ll help you to include all the features that make the project a success.

If your manager or project sponsors want you to get everything done within a tight timeline, at very low cost, with every whiz-bang feature they can think of—and you can’t meet all the demands, you’ll need to push back a bit and negotiate. For example, let them know that if they really need to meet a deadline, another constraint has to loosen up. They might need to sacrifice features that take too much time to design or build, or they might need to give you additional resources even if that drives the cost up.

If meeting the deadline looks impossible, you might say, “We can meet the deadline if we add additional resources, but that will drive up the cost. With no additional resources, we’ll be at least five days late. Which is more important, keeping the project within budget or meeting the deadline? If they’re both equally important, what aspects of the project can we scale back?”

“In other words, something has to give. If you want it fast and good, it won’t be cheap. It you want it fast and cheap, it won’t be good. If you want it cheap and good, it won’t be fast. Pick two out of three!”

The basic strategy is to figure out which constraint is flexible and use that flexibility to meet the demands of the other parts of the project that have more rigid constraints.

Sometimes your role as a project manager means you’ll need to persuade or educate others, and negotiate. At the beginning of the project it’s important to clearly define the scope and the driving constraints and get everyone involved to agree; then as things come up, you have that initial agreement as leverage to use to educate and negotiate. Plan ahead and get as much early “buy in” on the project as you can.

The unexpected almost always happens so learn to expect the unexpected and adapt to the changing conditions in order to meet the project objectives. Learn to create “wiggle room” by being flexible and creative when it comes to: 1) the cost of a project, 2) the scope, 3) the timing.

You may copy, reprint or forward all or part of this Time Tips article to friends, colleagues or customers, as long as you credit the information to Peter “The Time Man” Turla, TimeMan.com