Moving From The Iron Triangle To The Agile Triangle

Recorded at Lean Agile Manchester on 21st June 2017
Sunil Mundra explains the connection between the Agile triangle and the iron triangle. This is a really good back to basics lightning talk.


All right. I’m Sunil Mundra. I am from ThoughtWorks. I hope I don’t have to introduce my organisation. I’m privileged to be working for a company, which probably does not need introduction among agilists. I’m a principal consultant, and I help organisations on their agile transformation journey. So, that’s about me. What I want to talk about today is moving from the Iron Triangle to the Agile Triangle. How many of you have heard of the Agile Triangle? Alright, okay. So, that’s a good topic to talk about.

So this is the person who came up with the concept of the Agile Triangle. I can very proudly say that I can call myself his colleague, this is Jim Highsmith, who is one of the 17 signatories of the Agile Manifesto and he is a thought worker. Right, so and he brought out this concept in this paper called Adaptive Leadership, which, if you have not read, I urge all of you to read. It’s a very heavy paper, it has three concepts, actually could have been three papers, but it’s just one. And this concept is one of those.

So, you’re all familiar with this triangle. Project managers, PMP, yeah? This is called the iron triangle, and what’s the rule of the iron triangle? It is that you need to fix two things and keep the third one variable. And that’s how you deliver projects, right? And as long as you meet the criteria of the iron triangle, your project is deemed to be successful.

What happens in real life? Do you freeze all three of them? And what suffers?

Brilliant. Alright. So, yes. So the point is whether we should evaluate our project success based on this. Which, as you know, we can make it come true that these are all constraints. So should constraints drive project delivery or constraints drive project success? Not really. I think agility has taught us something different. It is to look at value and not just constraints. But constraints are a given, constraints are good because they keep us within boundaries, they keep us grounded, they keep us focused. Right?

So, the point is that usually our constraints … We have time, which is fixed. So if you need a feature or you need a product, there’s a broad timeline by which you need to get it out by. And usually this is also fixed, the money part. You know you have a budget, you have a business case. And you know how much you can spend you know, to building a particular feature or a release on a product.

But, the point is this. The point is about scope. Should you be fixing that up front? Should you be fixing that without validating feedback from the market? So what the Agile Triangle says is this. Fine, Iron Triangle is there, the constraints are there, that’s important, but that’s just one part of the triangle. You can’t ignore constraints, you have to take them into consideration, but that can not be your primary driver for measuring project success or driving project outcomes. So, constraints, yes.

And the second part of the triangle is value. So, we need to make sure that within the constraints, we try to deliver maximum possible value and highest possible value. And what’s the way to link scope to value? What’s the technique that we use as agilists to bring scope to value? Anyone? No? Prioritisation folks! We have to prioritise scope. If you ask the business what is important, they say everything. And in reality, we know that that’s not the case. What you gotta do is we gotta prioritise scope and say what is the highest value we can deliver within the fixed time that we have and within the fixed amount of money that we’ve got. And that’s how you try to deliver the maximum possible value still meeting your constraints.

And last, but not the least, is quality, which is taken for granted in the Iron Triangle, but the Agile Triangle calls that out as an explicit variable to be accounted for. Which is that we wanna build a product which is reliable, maintainable, and adaptive. Remember that what we are building as a product is an asset. And if you want to maintain an asset, it’s got to meet those criteria. So how do you build quality in? Not compromise on that, deliver the highest value, within the constraints of time and money that you have. That’s what the Agile Triangle is all about. Thank you.

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