jim@millikenproject.com

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Monday, June 14, 2010

Jangling the Triangle

Nothing jangles the Triangle of Truth like the black magic wand of risk. For a terrifying example, consider the ongoing catastrophe in the Gulf of Mexico.
Drilling for oil in unprecedented circumstances is, of course, a project. The level of innovation and uncertainty in any project determines how much risk is involved, and therefore how the Triangle is to be constructed.
Drilling for oil a mile down in an extremely complex and fragile environment is a hugely risky project. It calls for strategic designs and tactical decisions soundly based in comprehensive assessment, analysis and planning with forethought.
Consider the Triangle of Truth (in more august quarters, referred to as “The Treble Constraint”).
The corners of the Triangle represent the three slippery assets at the foundation of the project manager’s job: Time, cost and quality. Projects are projects because they are uncertain, and the three corners are floating constructs required to make any action planning possible.
Amid uncertainty, we want to take time for baby steps, cautiously edging into the unknown. Can’t do much of that, though, because now you’re bulging out the cost corner. After while, certain desired outcomes can begin to look impossible because you’re running out of time and money – and maybe because they turn out to be just plain impossible.
So the triangle is dynamic, constantly tending to lurch out of control. At its center is the project manager, the busy string-puller who must keep the three corners in balance. The project manager works to manufacture certitude out of material that is largely speculative.
The multiple investors, participants and beneficiaries of the project must be empowered to act decisively and efficiently. You, as project manager, persuade them to do so, without let-up, through the life of the project. You start with forecasts and commitments that coalesce into a plan, then you execute, correct and accomplish. And negotiate.
Success at this enterprise demands proof that those making commitments can do so in confidence that the risks have been identified and accounted for.

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