Join Chris Croft for an in-depth discussion in this video Understanding the three circles, part of Project Management Simplified.
- So step one of our planning process is to define the project really carefully. Particularly, we need to define the cost, quality and time; these three circles are present in every project. Every project you can ever do will have some deliverables, which we're calling quality. It will have a time limit, probably. And it will have a budget limit, almost certainly. The problem is that customers always want something fantastic in as quick a time as they can have it and for the minimum budget, so you're being squeezed in all three directions and that's a problem.
In a way, this is the central problem of project management, you can't have all three. So we need to work out what it is the customer wants, we need to make sure we're not going to promise something we can't deliver, and we need to find out which is the top one, which is known as the key driver. Let me take for example the Olympics. We know the key driver for that is time. Something has to be delivered on that date. Whatever it costs, we'll probably have to pay it. If we have to reduce the quality slightly, then we might. But the point is we have to deliver the start of the Olympic games on a certain date.
If, on the other hand, we were building a nuclear power station then the key driver would be quality. It's got to be right, if we have to wait an extra year or two for it be ready, fine. So those two examples are quite easy. But what if you've got a customer who's really insisting on having all three things? We have to somehow get behind that and find out what their key driver is. For example, if I was having a website done, I would want it straight away, I would want it to be brilliant, and I would want it to be cheap. But the key driver isn't about what you want, it's about what you must have.
So the question is, which of these am I prepared to negotiate on? To find that out, what you should do as a project manager is ask your customer, or your boss, if he's your customer, you should ask them my three cunning questions. My first cunning question is: Why? Why do you want it by that date, or why have you set a budget of $20,000? By the way, if the budget's $20,000, we already know that's not the key driver because that's a round number they've probably just roughly estimated, there.
If the budget was $21,420, that's starting to sound as if there's a real reason why that's the limit. But if you ask them why, it's very interesting to see. Now they may say, for example, we must have it by date, because that's when the exhibition is on, and now we're thinking, okay, maybe time is the key driver. They may say, we want it by that date because we think it'll take about eight months to do. Then of course we know there's no compelling reason for that and we're starting to discover that time's not the key driver. Similarly, with a budget, if they say it's $20,000 because we think that's what it will cost, that implies that if they thought it was going to cost $25,000, they would've have allocated $25,000.
So in my mind, I already know there's another $5,000 I can spend if I have to. So asking them why is the first of my three cunning questions. My second question is to ask: What if? What if we just can't get it done by that date, what will happen? Then we can see whether they fall off their chair with horror or whether they say, "Well, you know, we'll just have to "carry on hiring the temporary building "for a bit longer," or something like that. So what if we had to take a bit longer? What if we had to spend a bit more? And see what their reaction is like.
My third cunning question is to offer to trade. This is what they did with my website. They said to me, "If you spent a little bit more, "we could put in some really nice extra features." I said, "Ooh, like what," and at that moment, they knew that I had more money. And funny enough, at that moment, I realized I had more money as well. I hadn't really thought about it until that point. I had set myself a limit, I didn't want to spend more than that, but when I was tempted by extra features, I immediately thought well, yeah, I would spend more.
That made me realize that for me, quality was more important than money. I actually found that helpful. You could argue that's the art of selling, actually. To make somebody realize it's worth spending extra to get extra quality. But what we're doing at this stage is, we're probing, we're trying to help the customer think really clearly about what it is that they want from the project. What's more important, keeping within the budget or delivering a brilliant job? So the third question, offering to trade, forces the customer to choose between those. If we could have a bit longer, we could do a better job, if you spent a bit more money, we could do a better job.
So that's the third of my cunning questions. So what I'd like you to do is just to think about the project you're doing at the moment. Do you know what the key driver is? Is there still time to go back to your customer and ask them my questions to work out what the key driver is, because the thing is, you don't want to fail on the key driver of your project. So that is step one, probe for the three circles, get them written down clearly agreed with the customer, and make sure you know which is the top one.
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- Defining project scope
- Deciding how to list tasks
- Estimating costs and time
- Planning for risk
- Staying on budget