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Understanding the Importance of the Flexibility Matrix

Article Written by Gwen Miller, PMP

This article was inspired by a question from one of my LinkedIn groups.   The question was ‘What would you do if demanded to cut the project time well below your estimates?’  To me it sounded as if some planning steps, agreements with stakeholders and documentation had been sidestepped.

As Project Managers, we are all aware of the dreaded constraints that are associated with our projects (if not, we better get acquainted).  Since our initiatives require management of scope, time/schedule, and cost/resources (lovingly referred to as the Triple Constraint), we must understand that these three project attributes are interconnected and any changes to one of the attributes has a direct effect on the others (and the PM’s ability to deliver what was originally agreed to).

That is why the Triple Constraint is represented by a triangle.  Three sides, all the same.  This visual creates the sense that each side relies on the other and if one changes the others have to, just to keep the triangle balanced.  In effect, this is exactly what a PM must do to successfully complete any project.  But to do this, the PM requires direction from the Project Sponsor.  This direction provides the PM with the clarity needed to balance the trade-off’s among the triple constraint.

Early in the project planning process (you do have a planning process, right?) the difficult conversation needs to take place with the project sponsor, including the project team if the planning is done as a team effort, to define priority among scope, time/schedule, and cost/resources.  I know, I know, everything is a priority and everything is least flexible.  To be able to plan the project properly and execute successfully, we need to understand ‘what gives’ if the project deviates from what was planned.

The flexibility matrix (the sleek, decision making, communication tool) is the PM’s best friend and tie-breaker, registering the preferences and priorities of the project sponsor.  As we go though the planning process, detailing the requirements or when (not if, as we all know, change is inevitable on projects) the project requires course correction, the PM can determine solutions or trade-offs based on the matrix.

This is what the matrix looks like:













In the completed matrix above, schedule has been judged to be least flexible and it is essential to deliver on the agreed upon completion date.  Based on the ranking of the other two attributes of the triple constraint, scope could be shrunk to meet the due date, but adding additional resources to accelerate the schedule would be the preferred method.

It is also best to document how the ranking was achieved and why a specific attribute is deemed least, moderately, or most flexible, as they relate to the project sponsor’s priorities.  The PM should also document if there were limits when applying the flexibility matrix.  If it is going to cost an additional $1 million to meet the schedule, that could have a serious impact on the business value to be derived from the project.  You could negotiate with the project sponsor for a scope reduction and increase in cost to meet the schedule.

Keep in mind the priorities can be changed by leadership.  One simple rule must be followed to prevent the assertion that all attributes be least flexible – only ONE check allowed per column and ONE check allowed per row.  Knowing the project priorities and limits and how to apply them to planning and managing the triple constraint in any project can lead you to success.

Do you know your project sponsor’s priority?  What will you do if the project goes sideways?


© 2011  Gwen Miller, PMP



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      What I have written so far is all on my blog. I am working on some new material right now. If there is something specific that you would like me to write about, please let me know.

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