Send Your Iron Triangle To The Scrap Heap

Or maybe to a ranch somewhere, where it can be used to call folks in for supper. Or dinner. Whichever one happens at lunch time.

So – here’s the deal: We keep talking about the iron triangle, or triple constraints as a bedrock of project management – and it’s not true.

Sure – understanding your timeline, and your budget (which these days also includes resources because you can buy just about any expertise you may want) and your feature set is important.




But those three things aren’t useful in the way they once were, not especially for software projects.

In the old model, it was super expensive to set up a server. To pay someone that understood routing. To find someone that understood the difference between an inner and outer join. And so on.

And in the old model, either it all worked, or you didn’t have anything.

Because of those two things – the iron triangle made a ton of sense – if you bent any part of the triangle, something else had to give. Since creating software was super expensive and super time consuming – this was a handy way to frame a project.

My, how times have changed! You can have a server setup in a few minutes, at the hosting location of your choosing, and it costs pennies on the hour.

Shouldn’t we change our mind about the usefulness of the triangle? I think we should.

I suggest that we relegate the triangle to the basement – you might want to drag it out and use it once in a while – but you don’t want it cluttering up your work.

And then replace it with a much simpler diagram – it’s about decision making, releasing to the public, and adoption.

You have 2  axes:

  • Rapid, informed, and devolved decision making
  • Rapid and iterative release to customers

If you achieve both of these – your outcome is adoption (you ARE releasing what customers want, right?)


But if either of those axes tilts (slow decision making/slow release) – you don’t get adoption. Someone else gets there first:

It’s not the big that eat the small, but the fast that eat the slow.

A bit more about decision making. Your business owner shouldn’t be involved in the how. And they should be involved in the what only to the extent that they can describe it out loud. Asking them to weigh in on your CSS schema is silly. So you want to devolve decision making as much as you can – get your execs to tell you why, and what in general, and then let them get back to running the business while you and your team get to work.

And that work should be fast and iterative. Show, don’t tell. Let your team build something that works, and show it early and often – and you can course correct quickly. Even better – show it to your actual customers and find out what they think.

What do you think?


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