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Triple constraint theory suggests that it is not realistic to expect to build the fastest, the cheapest, and the highest quality. Typically, something has to “give.” While most executive sponsors and product owners aspire for all three at the same time. Triple constraint theory tells us that time, cost, and quality are the three most important considerations, yet we need to remain more or less flexible with one of them; either time, cost, or quality. To help groups understand the tradeoffs that need to be made, consider building a Flexibility Matrix.

A Flexibility Matrix concedes that Time, Cost, and Quality are the three most important components of risk. The matrix format allows for differentiation by determining the most and least flexible factors of a project or an initiative. The result helps guide consistent decision-making among all team members.

Purpose of a Flexibility Matrix

All sponsors want the best, the fastest, and the cheapest but something has to give. You could never ask an executive sponsor ‘which is most important?’ because they would answer “All of them”. Therefore, concede that quality, speed, and price are all most important (ie, factors of risk), but seek to understand where you have the most amount of flexibility, and conversely, the least amount of flexibility; ergo, a Flexibility Matrix.

Method for Building a Flexibility Matrix

Since the sponsor may not give you their preferences, have the team build one. Understand that the Flexibility Matrix captures assumptions that support decisions the group makes.

Build your definitions in advance and define or explain the terms time, cost, and quality for your situation. Be certain to work the bookends and ask the team where we have the most amount of flexibility? Then the least? You know the moderate box by default since it is the only blank remaining.

Importantly, after you have created the visual response, have the team convert each checkmark into a narrative sentence or statement, for example:

  • Schedule is least flexible because we must have the release ready by October 1.
  • Quality (scope) is the most flexible because we can release an upgrade or modification after December 1.
  • Resources and cost offer a moderate amount of flexibility.

Challenges with a Flexibility Matrix

Make sure you fully define time, cost, and quality in advance of the facilitated session. For example, if you are deciding on the criteria to support a decision about where to locate a landfill (ie, garbage dump), we might define time as when the landfill opens, cost as the total cost of ownership, and quality as the impact on the environment. As such, the “answer” would likely be the opposite of the chart shown above.  “Time” would represent the most flexible and “quality” the least flexible. Write us with questions you have for a prompt response.

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Facilitation Expert

Terrence Metz, CSM, PSPO, CSPF, is the Managing Director of MG RUSH Facilitation Training and Coaching, the acknowledged leader in structured facilitation training. His FAST Facilitation Best Practices blog features over 300 articles on facilitation skills and tools aimed at helping others lead faster, more productive meetings and workshops that yield higher quality decisions. His clients include Agilists, Scrum teams, program and project managers, senior officers, and the business analyst community among numerous private and public companies and global corporations. As an undergraduate of Northwestern University (Evanston, IL) and MBA graduate from NWU’s Kellogg School of Management, his professional experience has focused on process improvement and product development. He continually aspires to make it easier for others to succeed.

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