The Magic Triangle: a classic – but what on earth has magic got to do with project management?

The Magic Triangle – last time we looked, excel spreadsheets and project plans didn’t feature in Harry Potter!

… erecting a new factory hall within a few days? Development of a new technology component that has low production cost and a big profit margin?

…That sounds like some magic is needed! Here is a little ‘project magic’ to help you:

Let’s have a look at our three magic points:

  • cost
  • time
  • effort, often also referred to as quality

Okay, cost time and effort – if you internalise these three dimensions and bear them in mind you will gain a lot. Indeed, virtually all decisions in a project go back to one of these three angles:

Cost: what budget is there for your project? What does it cost to implement the ideas?

Time: how much time do you have to complete the project? How long do the tasks realistically take?

Effort: what is supposed to be achieved/produced? What’s the required quality?

And right slap-bang in the middle – don’t forget – customer satisfaction! If we keep our customers right in the middle of it all we can’t go wrong.

The project manager is left with the honourable yet tricky job to balance these targets in order to lead the project to success. Naturally, this isn’t as easy as it sounds.

Let’s have a look at some examples:

Time vs. cost:

The long-agreed completion date for the building extension is in danger of slipping. Furthermore, there is a limited budget.
Here we have a classic conflict between time and cost: in order to achieve completion on time, more people are required on site. This however, will have negative implications on the budget.

Cost vs. effort:

Similar scenario: The budget is nearly running out, but the extension needs to be completed! Using a cheaper laminate floor would fit into the budget but the client specified solid oak flooring. A classic conflict between cost and effort.

Time vs. effort:

Beautifully carved and built in shelving is part of the extension plan. It takes the carpenter three weeks to produce the shelving unit. Completion of the overall project is set to be in 10 days time. If the carpenter has to deliver by then, his work would have to be far less detailed and elaborate. Here we have a conflict between time and effort.

And how does this all relate to customer satisfaction?

We need to always be aware that we need to aim to keep all our customers/stakeholders happy. Whilst the house owner may be very keen to stick to the building budget, the architect might feel very precious about her design and the mortgage lender will be keen on quality work, in the end you need to have a happy client and a solid product.

Ricarda Baldock works as a freelance project manager and management consultant with experience in SMEs, the charity sector, in IT projects and in the finance sector.
Among her specialties are project planning, strategic analysis, process improvement, project branding and project marketing.