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Jason Fried on The Project Triangle

Getting Real: Pick two - scope, timeframe, or budget.

Next, you need to tell your client to pick two. We’ve all heard “Pick two: good, fast, or cheap.” Well, dealing with client projects is no different. Your client needs to pick two: fixed scope, fixed timeframe, or fixed budget. Having all three is a myth. Pick three and you’ll end up with a lot of unsatisified people and subpar results.

Project Triangle Icon I’ve always felt that The Project Triangle was an elegant way to discuss resource constraints with a client, but it’s also a useful tool for helping your team understand the play. Constrained features (a/k/a, quality or scope), in particular, can be an awkward topic to broach; it doesn’t mean the deliverable can be broken, but that strong, early decisions must be made about which features of the project are critical path components, and which are "nice to haves." As much as we each want to have it all, fast and on budget, these are conversations that you really want to have before work is begun. Trust me on this.

There’s no substitute for deciding to “hire the right clients,” as Jason puts it (that’s huge), but it’s also useful to have an ongoing understanding—internally, as well as with the client—about which part of the project “gives” when the inevitable changes happen. Lacking bottomless wallets and a time machine, most clients accept that features nearly always take the blow. Discussing and planning for that ahead of time will help make the last day of your project as pleasant and stress-free as the first.

(Here’s a modest printable copy of the Project Triangle that I had hanging over my computer for years.)

Merlin's picture

It can be awkward to...

It can be awkward to invoke “the triangle” by name, since if it’s handled wrong, it can sound like blackmail. :-)

Most clients are interested (sometimes too much) in how you charge, so that can be a good inroad.

”Well, like all things, it depends. [all share awkward, ice-breaking laugh.] We do like to structure our projects in terms of how long it is likely to take and what sort of features you’ll want. To get a good estimate, it helps us to be as specific as possible about what’s important to you.”

And that’s not BS. If the client has her heart set on a home page that’s shaped like a powder puff and squirts Polo for Men every five minutes, it’s important to frame the discussion from the beginning around that (and how that feature came to be the linchpin for the project).

I’ve found it’s also a good point to bring up past projects that they’ve thought went well and not—and to ask how, in retrospect, things might have been different if they’d used/not used a triangle-like planning model. Good way to find where the landmines are buried in a given office. :-)

Anybody got real world instances where they’ve used the triangle?




An Oblique Strategy:
Honor thy error as a hidden intention


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