Understanding the Agile Triangle: Value, Quality, and Contraints

Understanding the Agile Triangle: Value, Quality, and Contraints
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Why The Agile Triangle?

Jim Highsmith, the Director of Cutter Consortium’s Agile Product and Project Management Practice, explains the need for the Agile Triangle. “If agility is about delivering customer value by being flexible, then how can adhering to a traditional scope-schedule-cost (Iron Triangle) be the best way to measure performance?” Highsmith’s answer is that it can’t, so on to the Agile Triangle that focuses on value, quality and constraints.

With the Iron Triangle comes scope, scheduling and cost to deliver quality. Agile Methodology does require that teams must adapt within the project scope and realign schedules all while staying within the cost of the project to deliver the end result. If the new Agile Triangle theory is attempted, what’s different?

  • Scope Versus Value - The project scope is important. It outlines your projects and defines them. If you’re an Agile manager, shouldn’t value be part of the project scope? In fact, the value of your project includes the scope at many levels, not just definition, so think about both project value and project scope and how well your team can adapt. Agile management offers flexibility, but too much flexibility can lose the value of the project or result in a failed outcome. Discuss what the most valuable elements of your project’s scope are.

  • Schedule Versus Constraints - Project schedules are hard and fast rules to stick to but there will always be change. Defining constraints can help with time lines and schedules within a project. The Agile Triangle considers utilizing constraints to redefine scheduling.

  • Cost Versus Quality - Does the cost of a project actually reflect the quality of the project? With the Iron Triangle, a good project scope, schedule and cost factors measure a project’s quality. In the Agile Triangle, quality should not be the end-all of the project, it should rather allow for flexible cost structures to produce the desired effect and quality.

Using the Agile Triangle

Some experts say there is no such thing as an Iron Triangle in Agile Methodology. Why? Because projects can’t be fit into tiny flexible boxes and there are more than three elements to consider when using Agile management. The Agile Triangle has helped to sway these doubters through implementation.

If we take Jim Highsmith’s example that utilizes Agile Methodology, the first being Motorola’s Iridium project that failed in the marketplace and then James Cameron’s over-cost and over-schedule movie, Titanic, which one succeeded? Motorola’s project was the Agile Methodology success because it stayed within the scope, schedule, and cost, even though it failed at the marketplace. Titanic, on the other hand had overruns as high as $200 million but gained $1 billion at the box office; it utilized no Agile methods and even though monetarily it succeeded, it didn’t use good agile management techniques. So how can the new Agile Triangle work for your projects?

  1. Value - Your project’s value should be measured by the stakeholders and what they expect.
  2. Quality - The quality part of the triangle means you can deliver a reliable product by adapting to the customer’s needs.
  3. Constraints - Here, the three elements of the Iron Triangle appear – project scope, schedule, and cost.

So in fact the Agile Triangle, by changing its elements to include value and quality and keeping the old standards in the constraints part of the triangle can be beneficial, more adaptable, and flexible to teams and the entire project.