Managing Projects In Three Dimensions


 By Ed Fern 

California, USA

The most common cause of project failure is the failure to properly initiate the project.  A common misconception is that projects have three dimensions represented by a triangle; cost, schedule, and scope.  In truth this two dimensional form conceals a three dimensional pyramid with the other three lines being threats, opportunities, and priorities.  Unless and until all six of these elements are understood, the construction of a final project plan is farce.  While to sponsor or sponsors of the project have an image of the finished product in their minds, it is unlikely that they have a clear understanding of the implications inherent in converting that image into reality.  It is the job of the project manager to provide the sponsor with information about those implications so that the sponsor can be detailed in defining the scope of the project.

(see paper for diagram)

Project sponsors initiate projects because they have identified an opportunity they wish to take advantage of.  The size of the opportunity, coupled with the intensity of the desire to take advantage of it, define the other dimensions of a reasonable project.  The project manager must define what deliverables must be achieved to take advantage of the opportunity.  This achievement will require spending time, money, and facing threats and the project manager must define these.  The sponsor must then determine how long he is willing to wait, how much money he is willing to spend, and what threats he is willing to face in the process.  If the opportunity has sufficient priority to make the six lines meet in four places, then a project should be initiated.

The scope line is fragmented into individual requirements.  Some requirements are mandatory and must be included without regard to their impact on the other dimensions.  Some are highly desirable but optional, depending on their impact on the other dimensions.  They have high priority but not sufficiently high to make them mandatory.  Others are to be included in the finished product of the project only if they have little impact on cost, schedule, opportunity, and threat.  They have low priority.  Priority must form the backbone of the project plan and priorities must be assigned by the project sponsor.


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About the Author

ed-fernflag-usaEd Fern

Edward J. (Ed) Fern is President of Time-to-Profit a Project Management training firm providing services on four continents.  He has held director level positions with Sprint, Control Data Corporation, TRW, and Infonet Services Corporation. He earned an MS in Technology Management from Pepperdine University in 1992 and his Project Management Professional designation in 1998.  Ed has conducted project management seminars in forty-six cities in fourteen countries on four continents.  He is the author of the book Time-to-Profit Project Management: A Primer for Project Managers in Commercial Product Development and co-author of Six Steps to the Future: How Mass Customization Is Changing Our World, both published in English, Russian, Romanian and Brazilian Portuguese.  His E-mail address is [email protected].