IPMA International Project Management Association
15 October 2019 / 8:00

Quartet of project core: Agility, Scope, Time and Cost


Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance, you must keep moving” – Albert Einstein

The words of wisdom quoted above encapsulate the mechanism for evolution of individuals, organizations, professions and broadly civilizations. They underpin the need to not only keep improving, but also keep making efforts to evolve. In fact, professions such as project management (PM) that boast broad applicability, but often considered non-core business activity, are faced with a greater urge to evolve and stay relevant in changing times. Such a tendency instills a positive stress in the system providing impetus to efforts for finding new ways for improving the profession and its constituents.

One of the key concepts that has been the linchpin to modern-day PM philosophy is the triangle of constraints comprising of scope, time and cost (also called as iron triangle of PM). Given the adhoc and deliverable oriented nature of PM organization, the focus on scope, time and cost undoubtedly provides the foundation for projects to function and create deliverables within client imposed constraints. However, changing times necessitate shift towards flexibility and agility in project delivery and a need to rethink the configuration of core concepts.

With that in mind, we introduce an enhanced version of triangle of constraints called as ‘Quartet of project core’ by adding fourth element ‘agility’ to the mix.  We define the quartet of project core as an ensemble of agility, scope, time and cost which provides the conceptual foundation for managing new-age projects. Having defined the concept, below we look at some of the key questions to bring some clarity around the proposed advancement.

How does Quartet of Project Core work? What are its key constituents?

We present below the tenets of the concept.

  1. The quartet of project core consists of four core elements: agility, scope, time and cost (scope, time, and cost are herein-after referred as triangle of constraints).
  1. The agility works as a central element linked to triangle of constraints on all sides (see Figure below).
  1. Agility is shown as a circle with circumference line touching triangle lines, creating a dependency link between triangle of constraints elements and the agility. The circle signifies flexibility and shows that it can expand or contract based on the space (within the perimeter of triangle) available to it.
  1. The magnitude and degree of influence of agility is directly dependent on the size of the triangle of constraints. Bigger the triangle in terms of magnitude of scope, time and cost; greater the need for agility in the project.
  1. Agility is need based and not necessarily a given condition that must be there in ample quantities for the success of new-age projects.
  1. Agility is sensitive to changes to any one or more than one elements in the triangle of constraints and could increase or decrease in magnitude because of changes in size of elements in the triangle of constraints.
    For instance, an increase in scope may lead to an increase in time and cost, resulting in an expanded size of the triangle. The increase in the size of the triangle will force a corresponding increase in the size of the circle, which means an increase in the need of agility. The increase or decrease in the elements of triangle of constraints has direct bearing on the need for agility to manage a project as per the concept of Quartet of Project Core.
  1. Agility is a synergistic composition of many elements mainly responsiveness, adaptation, and leadership (https://www.ipma.world/achieving-business-agility-agile-portfolio-management/).

      Figure: Quartet of project core

    Why you should adopt the Quartet of Project Core for management of your projects?

    1. Agility drives performance-focus

    Agility is considered to drive performance and value creation. It is thus synergistic with performance objectives of triangle of constraints. Agility enables project organizations to be responsive, adaptive and exercise change management leadership. These ingredients help in reducing risks, ensuring quality assurance and becoming proactive to management of changes and issues in relation to elements of triangle of constraints.

    1. Agility adds balance to the triangle of constraints

    Agility adds balance to the triangle of constraints and serves as a buffer to problems related to scope, time and cost going out of control. It provides a mechanism to link elements of triangle of constraints allowing organizations to stay on course while being flexible.

    1. Dealing with emergence is not a phenomenon specific to IT or software development projects anymore

    The fast paced social and technological developments are keeping organizations on the edge. Projects thus face increased pressures from emerging circumstances caused by a variety of internal and external factors. As such, dealing with emergence is no more specific to IT or software projects alone and all types of projects need to use some level of agility and flexibility during delivery.

    1. Projects, both traditional and non-traditional, are becoming complex

    Projects are growingly becoming complex. The technologies, skills, processes and resource used for creation of project deliverables and management of project tasks are becoming complex, necessitating agility in handling the project work. Even for projects such as construction industry projects which are traditionally considered relatively stable from requirements and change management perspectives (as changes entail significant costs and time); the use of agile concepts is becoming important. Mainly because the modern day buildings are being constructed on the basis of smart construction philosophies involving use of sophisticated/complex technologies and advanced planning techniques.

    1. Triangle of scope, time and cost still holds the key to success

    Scope, time and cost still remain the core ingredients for project success. In fact, if we look at various best practice-based guideline frameworks or methodologies used in PM, work required is the nucleus   which help define time and cost. Therefore, agility any new concepts need to incorporate the core elements of scope, time and cost to be useful for practical PM purposes.

    1. Agility is not just the buzz word, but need of the time

    Agile techniques are maturing and becoming mainstream for management of projects. For the same reason, most of PM bodies have included agility guidelines in their PM standards and competency baselines. These trends are significant and show that agility is no more a fancy term. The situation thus warrants careful insertion of agility concepts in already established PM core elements.

    1. Fast-paced socio-technological changes necessitate new way of PM thought

    The world is engulfed by fast-paced socio-technological changes. These changes are reflected in changing nature and sophistication of client needs, PM processes, PM technologies, and future outlook. It necessitates new way of thinking about PM to avoid PM become stagnant. Certainly, taking a balanced approach by embedding agility in current PM knowledge will help quest for PM reinvention.

    Concluding thoughts:

    The concept of PM triangle of constraints seems to be as old as PM itself is. Yet, it is an indispensable piece of knowledge and perhaps will remain as such in decades to come. Notwithstanding the usefulness, it is important to upgrade this concept with the needs of modern-day PM.

    Agility has gained considerable steam over last 20 years or so and has become a mainstream PM technique. It provides balance and cushion against the problems which often cause project failures.

    Given the importance, we have introduced a new concept called as quartet of project core, , which is a refined version of triangle of constraints. The key idea behind the concept is that agility is the need of the project and is directly dependent on the magnitude of scope, time and cost. Bigger the scope, time and cost; greater will be the need for agility in the project. We believe this new concept provides foundation for improved PM by taking a balanced approach on quartet of core elements of agility, scope, time and cost.

    Authored by:

    Professor Jiwat Ram

    © 2019 Jiwat Ram, All Rights Reserved.


    Leave a Reply

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


Author of this post

Jiwat is a Professor in Project Management. He has considerable experience of working internationally in diverse cultures and business environments.

Jiwat is currently serving on the Editorial Board of International Journal of Project Management.

Jiwat actively contributes to project management community. His work has been published in top scientific journals and Four of his published papers have remained in Top25 most downloaded papers. Additionally, two of his papers have been ranked as the Most Cited article published since 2012. More recently, he has published a number of articles on some of the issues confronting project management in various industry based outlets.