Project Management Institute

An executive's geometry lesson


by Joan Knutson, Contributing Editor

Concepts often are best explained with pictures. Using these geometric models, executives can relay project management to any customer, board of directors or cynic.

Triple Constraint Triangle

The equilateral triangle portrays the “triple constraint.” One side of the triangle represents time; the second, resources (or dollars); and the third, quality or technical performance. Each variable must remain in balance. However, sometimes the powers-that-be want their projects completed faster, cheaper and correctly. That may be unrealistic, and here's why.

Basic geometric figures can explain project management concepts, leading to greater understanding among stakeholders.

First, faster delivery may not be feasible without more resources (and consequently more dollars) and/or fewer features/less functionality of the deliverable. With a limited budget, the project manager may request a deadline extension or that the initial requirements be reduced. If the commitment is to the highest-quality deliverable, then the time and money to create this exceptional end product will be necessary.

If any side of the triple constraint triangle is modified, the project manager may, of necessity, ask to renegotiate one or both of the two other sides.

Second, typically one variable supercedes the rest. On-time delivery may be more important than meeting an exact budget, or quality at any cost may be the project driver. Let project managers know the highest priority and leave them to manage the project accordingly.



Joan Knutson is president of PMSI-Project Mentors (a part of the Provant solution), a San Francisco- and Atlanta-based project management training, services and product firm. She can be reached at +888-PROJ-888 or Comments on this column should be directed to

2 x 2 Component Square

Draw two concentric squares around the triangle to create a frame. No side of the inner square should touch the points of the triangle. In the top band, write “planning” and in the bottom band, “controlling.”

Planning includes scheduling, allocating resources and defining requirements associated with quality and technical performance within the triangle. However, it also includes the interactions amongst project team members, managing risk and addressing scope changes.

By allowing the project manager to invest time and effort in planning, the executive and the organization will receive a significant ROI in execution.

By tracking all project variables during execution, the project manager can warn of possible variances and, more importantly, of the ramifications those variances may have on commitments. Remember to inspect what is expected.

Now, in the left band of the frame, write “process” and in the right, “people.” For each planning and controlling variable there is a system, method or technique that consistently and appropriately addresses it, such as the correct way to produce a chart or graph, the correct communication tool or the appropriate template that will make tasks more efficient and effective.

Even with a multitude of “Early PERT Networks” or “Eclectic Gantt Charts,” the project may not be successful. The people involved—the project sponsor or client, the project team members and the strategic management committee that manages the project portfolio within an organization—are the key to success.

Communicate with, inform, empower and render accountable all people associated with the project.

Performance Parallelogram

Draw a parallelogram (a quadrilateral having opposite parallel sides). Divide this Performance Diamond™ (PMSI-Project Mentors) into four equal facets that address requirements for the 2 x 2 component square and ensure that variables on the triple constraint triangle are accomplished successfully.

The bottom, right facet, Knowledge, is the awareness, comprehension, skills and competencies to perform planning and controlling so that the people will support the project, processes and project management. This may be acquired through classroom training and/or independent study. However, to gain “true” knowledge, it is necessary to take what is learned and practice that skill until it becomes a competency. Executives must cultivate an environment that fosters the development of skills and competencies.


Moving clockwise, the second diamond facet is Process. This facet encompasses the documentation of the processes that are the guidelines and specifications ensuring that project management is performed consistently and correctly. The third facet is Technology, or technology-enabled processes. Some components relative to planning, controlling, processes and people can remain paper-and-pencil. However, computer-based programs increase efficiencies by inputting data, reading information and archiving for the future.

The last facet of the diamond is Professionals. Qualified individuals who desire their roles are a must. It is a mistake to force people into jobs they don't like and, consequently, won't do well. Further, job descriptions, reward systems and performance appraisal review processes must be updated and reflect the project players’ work.

Thus ends the geometry lesson.

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This material has been reproduced with the permission of the copyright owner. Unauthorized reproduction of this material is strictly prohibited. For permission to reproduce this material, please contact PMI.

PM Network July 2001



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