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Re-imagining the Iron Triangle: Embedding Sustainability into Project Constraints.

FEATURED PAPER

Jonas Balshoej Ebbesen

and

Alexander J Hope

UK
________________________________________________________________________

Abstract

Since the emergence of the formal discipline of project management, academics and practitioners have sought to define criteria against which project success can be measured. Perhaps the most well known criteria are encapsulated in the ‘Iron Triangle’ that places Cost Time and Quality at the center of project success. However it has been suggested that whilst this triple constraint is important, it can also narrow the focus away from other crucial project success factors. One area that is gaining prominence within the field of project management is the consideration of sustainability principles and there is an increasing understanding of the need to develop methods, tools and techniques to integrate sustainability criteria into the management of projects. This paper presents the results of an empirical study in which project managers were asked to re-draw the traditional Iron Triangle with the inclusion of sustainability. The results of the study indicate that whist sustainability is seen by practitioners as a key factor to be included in project planning and implementation, there is disagreement as to where the issue sits in relation to traditional time, cost, quality constraints and how sustainability principles should be integrated into projects.

Keywords: Project constraints, Sustainability, Iron Triangle, Project Management, Success factors, Sustainable Project Management

Introduction 

Since its introduction in the early 1950’s the discipline of project management has sought to define criteria against which projects can be measured. Perhaps the most well known measure of success criteria is the ‘Iron Triangle’ that places Cost Time and Quality at the center of project success (Atkinson, 1999). It has been suggested that while this triple constraint model is important, it can also narrow the focus away from other crucial factors that lead to project success as project managers see their role as restricted to achieving the predefined time, cost and quality objectives (Crawford and Earl, n.d.). Furthermore, projects that are delivered on time, within budget and meet scope specifications may not necessarily perceived to be successful by key stakeholders (Shenhar and Dvir, 2007; Turner and Bredillet, 2009). One area that is gaining prominence within the field of project management is the consideration of sustainability principles (Gareis et al., 2011; Silvius and Schipper, 2011). Accordingly there is increasing understanding of the need to develop methods, tools and techniques to integrate sustainability criteria into the management of projects. As one of the foundations of projects and project management, the Iron Triangle, or Triple Constraint is perhaps an ideal starting point for leveraging sustainability into the management of projects.

This paper presents the results of a questionnaire in which project managers were questioned on their knowledge of the Iron Triangle, their understanding of the concept of sustainability, and whether they   considered sustainability principles in the management of their projects. Participants were also asked to re-present the traditional Iron Triangle with the inclusion of sustainability as one of the criteria. It begins by introducing the concept of the triple constraint and its place at the heart of project management theory and practice. This is followed by an outline of sustainable development and the importance of incorporating sustainability principles into business and project management to create ‘sustainable project management’. The paper then briefly reviews previous attempts to re-define the model of project constraints before introducing the study in which project managers were asked to re-consider the Iron Triangle with sustainability in mind.

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About the Authors

jonas-ebessenflag-denmarkflag-ukJonas Ebbesen

Jonas Balshoej Ebbesen is currently Project Manager at Quedro, a company that develops IT platforms and infrastructure specifically for the real estate industry. He holds a BSc in Global Business Engineering from VIA University College in Denmark, a MSc in Project Management from Northumbria University and has spent time studying in the United States and Australia. He is interested in Sustainability in Project Management, Project Team Dynamics and Global Relationship Management.  He can be contacted at [email protected]

alexander-hopeflag-ukAlexander Hope

Dr. Alex Hope is Lecturer in Sustainable Development and Project Management in the School of Built and Natural Environment, Northumbria University, UK where he teaches on a range of undergraduate and postgraduate programmes. Previous to this he has worked in operational and project management roles in both the private and public sector. He holds a degree in Environmental Management, diploma in Leadership and Management and a PhD in Sustainable Development. Dr. Hope’s main research interests include Sustainability in Project Management, Sustainable Construction, PPP/PFI procurement, and Environmental Assessment Methodologies.  He can be contacted at [email protected].