The holy trinity of projects

Every project has a

  • Scope,
  • Budget and
  • Timeline.

This is what differentiates them from routine/regular business. Project management literature calls this trinity ‘the triple constraints”.

This trio also serves as a success measure. Truly successful projects deliver what is required, within the budget and on time.

I also believe the Trinity is in good company when Quality and Integrity butt in.

Some trade-offs might be necessary between the scope, budget and time. If the sponsor or client want a closer launch date of the product/service, additional resources and reduced scope might be necessary.

Sometimes, the project manager will have to have the courage to say No to trade offs. Saying No at the right time to anything which risks creating a scope creep is a project’s manager duty. It can be No during the design phase, before the commitment. It can be No during the implementation phase, when the client’s appetite increases. This requires some business acumen.

In the business world, some use the “law of two-thirds” to decide the trade-offs. It offers criteria for decisions about what will define a product or organization (inspired by Tyler Kleeberger, A Technique for Deciding When to Say No, Medium, published on Medium, January 2019). Essentially, you can’t do everything so what should you do?  It will not surprise you that the three criteria are (again):

  • Quality
  • Speed
  • Price

You must consider all three, but you can only choose two. For example, a manufacturer wants to deliver quality and wants to be fast? Then the products are likely going to be more expensive. A business desires to offer its services at low prices, but also wants to maintain quality? Then, it is likely that the speed is going to be reduced. Those who want something that is fast and cheap, will have to compromise on quality.

It will be important to keep an eye on the perspective and the short, medium and long-term benefits, along with a good risks management strategy. I would never compromise on integrity though.

It takes humility, strength, and fortitude to acknowledge your project’s, your team’s and your own limits. It also takes visions and leadership to choose and to focus on priorities. It is not unusual for me to ask my colleagues and my client: “So what are the 3 big things this project shall deliver?”.

IMG_1374image credit StamfordGlobal, 2008.




Re-post: Beyond Best Practices: How to Use Design Thinking in Rule of Law Promotion

This article “Beyond Best Practices: How to Use Design Thinking in Rule of Law Promotion”, by Siddharth Peter de Souza for PeaceLab touches upon the How and Why of the design thinking in rule of law projects (and not only, I would say): listen to what users’ say, do and aspire to and strive to meet their needs.

The ideas are central in human – centered development management theory and practice.

Link to article:

Stakeholders analysis or who else is in the sandbox?

Projects are not stand-alone “enterprises”. They usually need to co-exist and be implanted in already “populated” areas by those who have /can have a stake in a project.

A project’s needs assessment or design phase shall include the stakeholders analysis. There are many ways and tools to do a stakeholders analysis, out there in literature and internet.

Why do a stakeholders analysis? This analysis enables an up-to-date picture of stakeholders’ roles and interests in the project. These can range from ministries, parliaments, local authorities, institutions and organisations, both public and civil, professional and non-professional groups, to people and groups of people.

I sometimes, make an analogy with the sandbox and start by looking around who else is in the “sandbox” and what they do. Who builds a castle (ambitious ones), who destroys it (opposition), who digs ditches (planners), who is well equipped with buckets and shovels (the doers), who sits on the edges (the expectants) …Sandbox-Pic

In development management projects, I find it useful to use the following classification of stakeholders for the analysis of their impact/potential impact on the project.

  1. Resource Providers: those who provide funds.
  2. Target Group: are directly affected by the project and directly benefiting from the work of the project
  3. Beneficiaries: those who directly/indirectly benefit, in the longer term, from the improved capacity (skills, knowledge, etc.) and quality of services and products of the target groups
  4. Project partners/supporters: provide support for the implementation of the project. Although not in B and C categories above, their co-operation is vital for the successful implementation of the project (e.g. ministries, other governmental agencies, NGOs)
  5. Potentially affected/threatened: are/could be adversely affected by the implementation of the project
  6. Opposers: are/could be opposed to the implementation of the project
  7. Undecided: stakeholders with unclear role.

These categories are not static and stakeholders might switch roles throughout project implementation. It is thus important to regularly monitor their roles and stance.

Feel free to download and use this template PROJECTS STAKEHOLDERS ANALYSIS TEMPLATE_web


Thought of the week: context matters

-Thank you and your team for the flexibility.

– Oh, no. We are not flexible. We understand context.

-Thank you even more.

The above was a dialogue I had some time ago. All good project managers know that context is important – he/she will not rely on a “one-size–fits-all” approach.

I am personally allergic to copy-paste, in projects and beyond. It makes me want to cry when I see the name of the country changed through “find and replace” in development project documents.

Do yourself and your client a favour – research the context, do a proper needs assessment and/or diagnosis and bring what’s needed in that context.

origami by Sofia, 2017


Integrity in projects: standards of conduct with the media

Your personal behaviour  can affect the entire organization/company to which you provide your project management services. This can be even more critical if you deal with the media.

Check and follow your industry / Organisation’s Standards of Professional Conduct whenever in doubt and consult your colleagues in charge of the media.

The media may play a critical role in the field you implement the project in. If you are authorized to communicate with the media, be careful not to convey an inappropriate message, as it may put you/your colleagues in a difficult situation:

  • Speak only within your own area of competence and responsibility. Make it clear that you are project manager, not a decision-maker.
  • Provide facts, not opinions or comments.
  • Leave sensitive issues to officials who are specifically authorized to speak on them.
  • Decline politely by referring media to the authorised person, if you are not authorised to talk to the media.
  • Monitor the coverage to prompt necessary reaction to the way the facts of a project are depicted in the media.

Also, in multi-cultural environments or when traveling for work, stay attuned to the cultural factors in the environment the project is implemented. For example:

  • Can my religious beliefs – or lack of them – cause hostility? Can I talk openly about religion? Can I wear symbols of my religious faith? I remember these questions before my first trip to Kyrgyzstan.
  • Could there be friction because of the way the country sees the different roles of men and women?
  • Am I dressed appropriately for the location and social setting?
  • Beware of jokes that may seem inappropriate.
  • In some cultures, it is OK to disagree openly. In others, disagreements are discussed privately.
  • Beware of taking pictures inappropriately and without consent.

These considerations extend to social media, and even to your private life.

  • Do not include any organisation/company logos, emblems or other symbols in your profile, as some people might be misled into thinking you are speaking on behalf of the Organization/Company.
  • Avoid discussions involving sensitive political, religious and social issues.
  • Have your press-release first published on the company/organisation’s website on any official project events, then repost. You can post a selfie post-event, if you absolutely  must.