Beyond the Triple Constraint – The Project Hexagon

In a previous post, the notion of the famous ‘Triple Constraint‘ was presented and the main attributes and general usage of the mechanism was itemized and discussed. (For reference, please feel free to access the post: Scope, Time and Cost – Managing the Triple Constraint)

As most project managers are aware, the Triple Constraint is essentially a way to represent that when an aspect of a project’s attributes is altered, it invariably has an effect on the other attributes.

As a quick overview, the Triple Constraint is currently broken down into three distinct attributes, which form the basis of the triangle that forms when all three are displayed pictorially. The three attributes are defined as follows:

Scope – These are the functional elements that, when completed, make up the end deliverable for the project

Time – This refers to the actual time required to produce a deliverable

Cost – This is the estimation of the amount of money that will be required to complete the project

As alluded to earlier, the Triple Constraint forms a triangle, which appears as such:

Any change to a particular attribute (for example ‘cost’) must in some way affect the other attributes. The main notion of the Triple Constraint is to demonstrate that changes to a project cannot occur in a vacuum and that any modifications will result in some alterations to expected timelines, relative scope or intrinsic cost for the project.

The Triple Constraint on its surface is very useful. However, there are some who feel that the representation is not granular enough and does not adequately explain how certain changes may also affect project outcomes. With that being said, there is an expanded view of the standard Triple Constraint which displays itself in a hexagonal format. And as such, is often referred to as the Project Hexagon, shown below:

On cursory view, the Project Hexagon still has as part of its sides, the three traditional attributes of the standard Triple Constraint. Those being ‘scope’, ‘time’ and ‘cost’. Additionally, the hexagon adds the following attributes to make up the broader Project Hexagon:

Quality – The specification, conformance or general ‘fitness of purpose’ (caliber or grade) of a particular project deliverable

Risk – The potential effect of uncertainty on project objectives

Customer Satisfaction – The measure of how the product (or service) relevant to the project meets or exceeds customer expectations

Now as with the standard Triple Constraint, the Project Hexagon is also victim to the same fundamental aspect of its shape: a change to any of its attributes must invariably affect the others as well.

The usage of the Project Hexagon depends primarily on how the project manager wishes to convey the impact of potential changes to project attributes. A slippage of quality for example may not be as easy to discern on cursory view of the standard Triple Constraint. So the added granularity may be of benefit when conveying status to stakeholders or the project sponsor. Much of that decision will depend on the general preference of the manager themselves.

One thing to note: if one is deciding to leverage the Project Hexagon as a frame of reference, that should be done from the outset of the project. Utilizing the Triple Constraint and then switching to the Project Hexagon mid-way through the project can lead to confusion amongst team members and stakeholders alike. So if you are planning on leveraging the concept, it should be stipulated up front and tracked accordingly.

**Conclusions**

The decision to use the Project Hexagon may depend on conditions inherent to the project or simply the general preference of the project manager. The added granularity of the Project Hexagon can provide more useful information and more easily convey general project fundamentals in a more obvious fashion. It can be a useful tool when applied correctly and in circumstances where projects require more general metrics and more information in status, it  can be very effective.

Managing Your Meetings

meetingAny project manager in the industry is going to spend a fair amount of their time both attending and organizing meetings. They are a quintessential component of any project manager’s day-to-day duties and will likely consume a large portion of their time.

Yet despite the staple nature of meetings, often times, project managers can be surprisingly inefficient when it comes to how they set up, structure, manage and control their own meetings. This can become a very problematic issue, resulting in lost productivity and frustration for meeting attendees who may be required to attend follow-up meetings due to the manner and way the original meeting was handled.

With that being said, what are some policies and best practices that a project manager can and should employ to facilitate the best possible meetings for their given projects?

Come Prepared

This may seem like a no-brainer, yet it is quite surprising how many times a project manager will step into a meeting with little to no inkling of having things prepared up front. This can be as simple as ensuring that teleconference passwords are correct, the meeting room is functional in the form of having projection and display capabilities or that the WebEx, Live Meeting or Cisco Telepresence information was sent in advance. The more time that is spent having to wade through technical gaffes in meeting setup, the more time is wasted. Additionally, it sets a bad tone at the offset and gives the impression of unprofessionalism.

Have An Agenda

Somewhat of a carry-forward from being prepared, having an outline of what will be discussed in the meeting should be itemized up front. This will help encapsulate the meeting in an effective way and also give a better impression of how to manage time. In many cases, project managers can be too aloof in how they approach a meeting, many times underestimating how much time is available and how many discussion topics to cover. This can lead to situations where time essentially runs out because too much was spent on certain discussion topics at the expense of others. In many cases, certain discussions can be ‘shelved’ for the time being pending a follow-up meeting to ensure that all main topics are covered in ernest during the existing meeting.

Have Meeting Outcomes Itemized

This will be part of the agenda to a degree, but it is important to ensure that the meeting itself has some tangible outcomes that it yields. Otherwise, it is essentially not achieving anything. Meetings need to have some end result, whether it be simple status updates, architecture and design discussions, or general project related task overviews. Whatever the case, the meeting should be in place to achieve some goal and that goal should be understood up front, even if it is only the project manager that understands the outcome.

Keep Control of Your Meeting

Herding cats is a concept most are familiar with. And this concept is exemplified in spaces when it comes to controlling your meetings. As we all know in life, not all of us are created equal. Some are quiet while others are more boisterous. Some are reserved and others are opinionated. Whatever the case, it is important to recognize that in a meeting setting, you will have all these personality types often contained in one area, or connecting virtually. And if one is not careful about how things are being handled, a meeting can easily start to go off on tangents with the more dominant personality types driving the conversations in directions they want it to go.

As the project manager, the meeting is yours and it is up to you that it not only stays on topic, but that everyone is allowed to provide the necessary input. Having the agenda and a specific set of time constraints built into it can help tremendously in focusing the energy of the meeting on the tasks at hand. But you will also need to take steps to ensure things do not go too far off course. For issues that cannot be resolved easily in the meeting, shelve those for discussion later.

Start and Finish the Meeting On Time

A great way to ensure the future effectiveness of your meetings is to be diligent about time management. If you as the meeting organizer are complacent about when a meeting starts and how it ends, that will reflect on how people operate when attending your meetings. Someone who has a reputation as being prompt with start times, being focused to stay on course and being diligent about ending at the appropriate time will give attendees confidence that subsequent meetings will be dealt with just as efficiently.

Publish Action Items and Follow-up Immediately After the Meeting

This is probably one of the most overlooked yet extremely important aspects of meeting management. Generally speaking, when people leave a meeting, the ideas and discussion points are at the front of their minds. That goes equally for the meeting organizer, the project manager in this case. To ensure that momentum remains amongst the meeting attendees, it is important that all issues that were raised and all action items are itemized and published as soon as possible once the meeting has concluded. That will give meeting attendees the opportunity to review your meeting notes and provide any additional feedback while things are fresh in their minds. Waiting to publish meeting minutes and actions can degrade the quality of the notes as well as give too much of a gap for meeting attendees between meetings, thereby reducing the likelihood of staying ‘fresh’.

Do Not Hold a Meeting Just for the Sake of Holding the Meeting

In many cases, meetings become a recurring phenomenon. Especially for projects that have a long lifetime. However, there are times when a meeting is actually un-necessary and holding the meeting for no other reason than it appears in your Outlook calendar can actually detract away from  project momentum. Recurring meetings are fine in and of themselves but if you are struggling to find agenda topics or follow-up items for your meeting, than in all likelihood, the meeting is probably not required. By being smart about when to hold meetings and when to cancel them, your meeting attendees will actually be able to be more productive with regards to contributing to the overall project. It will also give the impression that you are not a creature of habit and are instead being pragmatic about how and when discussions need to occur in regards to the project.

Conclusions

Meetings are a general necessity when it comes to effective project management. Being smart about how you organize, handle and follow-up on your meetings is a major contributor to the success of the project as a whole. Understanding that meetings are meant to yield a specific outcome and are supposed to contribute to overall project success will give you incentive to be as diligent as possible in creating and structuring the best possible meetings that you can to achieve the desired outcomes you need moving forward.