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The Evolution to an Agile Triangle

The traditional iron triangle of project management, the left-most triangle, consists of scope, schedule, and cost. In many cases scope was the primary driver (because the false assumption was made that scope was known early in the project) and cost and schedule varied—although many managers attempt to lock down all three dimensions.


The second triangle represents an early view of measuring agile development where the schedule was fixed (time-boxed) and scope was allowed to vary—that is, time was used as a fixed constraint. Unfortunately, this second triangle still conforms to the existing iron triangle measures. Success, in many organizations and perpetuated by research organizations like the Standish Group, is still viewed as conformance to cost, schedule, and scope. If conformance to plan defines success, then how will agile projects that adapt continuously ever be deemed successful?

This brings up the third triangle, the Agile Triangle. The measures here are value (to the customer), quality (required to deliver continuous value to the customer), and constraints (scope, schedule, and cost). Constraints are still important to project parameters, but they are not the project’s goal. Value is the goal and constraints may need to be adjusted as the project moves forward to increase customer value. The schedule might still be a fixed constraint, but then the scope could be adjusted to deliver the highest value within the schedule constraint. If we want adaptability we must reward it. Adjusting constraints to meet value or quality goals helps organizations meet this need. To summarize:

  • Value goal: Build a releasable product
  • Quality goal: Build a reliable, adaptable product
  • Constraint goal: Achieve value and quality goals within acceptable constraints

If you find this article useful, you can check out our sample PMI-ACP Agile Courseware slides here.