Beyond the Triple Constraints: Unlocking Value in Program and Project Management

Today's business environment is more dynamic and variable than ever before. Businesses must not only innovate in how they attract customers and differentiate offerings, they must also evolve their approach to scoping and managing projects. In traditional program and project management (PPM) thinking, teams would define the three classic PPM constraints of budget, timeline, and scope, and then measure success or failure based on whether the project stayed within those constraints.

It is a universal modern truth that the objectives, assumptions and even scope established at the beginning of a project—especially for complex and innovative projects—will invariably shift as work progresses. New data and ideas will naturally be discovered in the course of the work, and they often demand some adjustment. In order to create the desired return on investment, today’s projects and the people driving them must be nimble enough to both align to business goals and be open to new discoveries and potential solutions that surface over the course of the project.

Individuals managing transformative programs or projects must focus on creation of business value—rather than dogged compliance with initial project scope—as their measure of success. This starts with clearly understanding business objectives then facilitating creativity and flexibility in the solution, from concept through realization.

Manage to value creation, not just scope

Every program begins with intended business goals. However, individual projects are often scoped to deliver a desired outcome which is a subset of these goals. This outcome is by nature limited by time, budget/resources and scope and can become disconnected from the strategic business rationale. Managing the project with the ultimate business value constantly in mind will drive a broader, more valuable outcome which goes beyond the baseline objectives.

In Amazon’s 2016 letter to shareholders[1], Jeff Bezos spoke about a mindset of “Day 1”, which centers on customer obsession, and on avoiding complacency and misguided processes and metrics. In contrast, “Day 2” is stasis, a failure to do better for the customer. Amazon Prime is an example of a project which likely started with limited objectives yet transformed into a market-shaping force because of this inherent “Day 1” mindset. “Day 1” is a set of beliefs about business value every Amazon project team can draw upon as this global leader continues to evolve.

Infuse creativity

Knowing where the project is heading (the intended outcome and the wider company strategy) is a baseline expectation for any project. But in order to capture business value beyond just addressing classic PPM constraints, there are two critical additional guiding principles which should remain front and center throughout the life of the project or program:

  • Create an environment where everyone on the project is empowered to think critically about the stated business value and opportunities to enhance it
  • Provide a forum to share and enact new ideas

In Scrum methodology, the Scrum Master is the servant-leader to the project team (rather than taskmaster/status recorder), and measures success by their ability to drive collaboration and remove blockers. Daily stand-up meetings and retrospectives are two of many ceremonies used to align on priorities, remove hurdles, and share insights which warrant shifts in approach.

Regardless of methodology, Scrum or otherwise, what matters more is a culture of critical thinking and creativity, a mindset which assumes the project is somewhat fluid and will evolve. By encouraging this thinking, project members can more readily identify new opportunities, capture unexpected business value, and be empowered to continuously refine the project outcomes to take advantage of newly discovered ideas.

Be flexible: business agility requires continuous change

Encouraging and infusing a sense of ownership regarding creativity and a broader business vision is crucial to capturing value beyond the initial scope. Project leaders must remain vigilant—and react to data and circumstances as they inevitably shift—as they guide project teams in embracing change in the pursuit of true business value.

In some cases, this might mean throwing out the previous plan and narrowing or redefining the project value. This was the case with the Apollo 13 mission and the incredible efforts of the crew and Mission Control to regroup after a crippling explosion. In other cases, the limited scope of a project might expand far beyond the initial value and transform into something else entirely. That was indeed was the case for Salman Khan, who began with the goal of tutoring his cousins, but found an entirely different definition of “value” when he shared his video lessons on YouTube. Today, Khan Academy has about 180 instructors, over 20,000 free videos, and many new projects in the works.


Summary:  How to incorporate these practices into your project

With a few manageable steps, program and project leaders can inspire stakeholders to create value beyond the classic PPM constraints by infusing creativity and flexibility in formal and informal ways:


  • Define the core business value the project will deliver and how it fits with the larger company objectives and mission
  • Create an environment where everyone involved in the project is empowered and encouraged to think critically about the stated business value and opportunities to enhance it
  • Provide a forum to share new ideas and enact them
  • Designate key project leaders to evaluate and enact changes
  • Document and track the effort, while embracing the reality that not all business value can be summarized in a single or quantifiable metric.

Program and project management have evolved into strategic roles which enable value creation for the business and its clients. To help clients succeed in today’s dynamic business environment, we must incorporate elements of product management and innovation into what used to be a more traditional role of just managing scope.  In short, even more than providing the traditional structure needed to organize a business initiative, using these disciplines to enable true transformation and value creation has become the most important work to be done.