- Published: October 31, 2021
- Updated: October 31, 2021
- University / College: University of Alberta
- Language: English
- Downloads: 9
The cost, time, specification triangle is a visual way of expressing the constraints that govern all project management projects (Lock, 2007, p. 7). It is a useful way to show the relationship between the key components of a project and because of their inter-relationship, it provides a reminder that changes in any of the three constraints will have an impact on the remaining ones. However, there are issues when attempting to use this approach as the sole way of determining if a project was successful. In particular, the cost, time, and specification are always determined in relation to theneeds of the client for whom the project is being completed. It is definitely within the rights of the client to place greater emphasis on one of the constraints over others. In such a case, if the emphasized constraint is met, the project could be viewed as successful, even if the other two constraints fall outside of what the client had defined (Lock, 2007, p. 6).
This issue can be particularly difficult if the emphasized constraint is specification and these specifications are continually altered during the course of the project in response to unforeseen issues. This is precisely the situation of the Rijksmuseum Museum remodel in Amsterdam. As reported by the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), some of the unanticipated issues that required specification changes included flooding, asbestos, and a cycle access dispute (2013). Each of these issues was severe enough to cause alterations in the specification that were perceived as necessary in order to fulfill the quality insisted upon by the client.
Another insight from project management that is useful to understanding this scenario is that a project specification often does not define quality, as ultimately sought out by the client. In project management, quality is always “fit for purpose,” no matter what the content of the current specification. Thus, it is possible for the specifications of a project to change, but the quality of the project to remain within the “fit for the purpose” definition (Lock, p. 6). In the presented scenario, the initial quality demanded of the project, a renovated museum without negative impact on all the stakeholders involved, acted as a cascade effect for changes in the specification.
An initial issue was the presence of asbestos. This is obviously a safety issue that must be dealt with satisfactorily if the museum is to be safe for future visitors. Thus, the specification had to be changed to incorporate the processes needed to renovate a building that includes asbestos that needs to be contained and removed. Of course, this change meant increases in both cost and time to meet the changed specification. Next, the two sides of the museum were to be linked with new construction connecting the two wings. An unforeseen issue here was uproar caused by the loss of a cycling path that used the space that the new construction was to occupy. When it was clear that the cyclists concerns would be held above those of the project, the specifications were changed again.
A third major issue was encountered in the proposed solution to the cyclist path issue. Rather than close the cyclist path, it was proposed that the two sides of the museum be linked underground, through a tunnel. In many places of the world, this would be an admirable solution, but in Amsterdam, where street level is already below the water table, the tunnel solution led to massive flooding. This caused the specification to be changed to include “complex engineering work” to hold back the water (Savage, 2013) which necessarily meant increases in cost and time.
But, in the end, the museum got what it had sought all along – a renovated museum without negative impact to the community, except perhaps in the tax dollars that were spent. Each of the above described-issues drove massive changes to the specification. This, in turn, drove a cost over-run of millions of Euros, for a total of 375 million, and time over-run of five years, for a total of ten (BBC, 2013). From a very strict project management point of view, this renovation project would certainly be viewed as a failure.
Under the traditional guidelines for project management, success is defined as completion within budget, timely delivery, and good performance in reference to the project specifications (Lock, p. 5). Really only one of these guidelines was met in the museum renovation project – the many-times altered specifications were met in the performance of the project. And as discussed above, the quality demanded by the client was also met with the project performance. Arguably, the project could be seen as a success even in a project management sense, if the obvious focus of the decision-makers, who authorized each of the massive changes to the specification, upon the performance/specification constraint is allowed to overrule the other negative aspects of the project.
A further consideration about how success for this project should be defined is that this is a governmental project, heavily invested in national and global concerns as compared to one that is undertaken for a profit-making company. The Rijksmuseum Museum contains what the Dutch consider to be some of their most prized national treasures. Building a shelter for such treasures is not an ordinary project but has the upmost need for safety of what is stored, safety for those who visit, and consideration to the community. Certainly the decision-makers in this case paid a very high price in cost and time to accommodate the cyclists’ concerns. Additionally, the resulting water engineering work may therefore fall within what is appropriate for such a project.
Further, the special LED lighting system with 3800 individual bulbs that protects the integrity of the artwork that must have also increased both cost and time (Savage, 2013), but has obviously been considered appropriate for what needed to be protected within the project. It can be proposed that these changes in specification reflect necessary alterations in order for the decision-makers to achieve the quality that they desired and felt was necessary given the value and irreplaceability of what the project was built to hold.
Finally, there is the question of Dutch state pride and the positive effect on the global art community of art lovers. Indeed, one of the Dutch commentators reflected “[t]he Rijksmuseum is a showcase of what this country can do when it really wants something great” (BBC, 2013). Another stated that “[m]any of the world’s museum directors wept” (BBC, 2013). There will certainly be a small subset of projects that should be able to transcend standard project management judgments and be able to be scored solely on their results. That is not to say that the ends can always justify the means, and certainly this project had more than its fair share of project management nightmares. But in viewing the big picture, sometimes the project management aspects may need to take a subservient position to other considerations surrounding a project, particularly when drawing a final decision of failure or success.
The key skills for a project manager can be examined by looking at the important functions that a project manager contributes over the course of a project. For example, the steps of a project can be divided into four stages 1) coming together, 2) challenge and conflict, 3) doing the work, and 4) project and team closure (Flannes and Levin, 2005). In the “coming together stage” some essential skills are ability to perceive individual differences, effective interpersonal communication skills, and the ability to lead without the benefit of official rank. The importance of these skills to project management theory is the central role that good definition of the project and good starting specifications can play in the overall project success.
In the “challenge and conflict” stage some of the essential skills for a project manager are the ability to identify personal styles, the ability to use conflict resolution skills, and the ability to manage without being an actual manager. Further, if the project is in a critical stage, some useful skills are recognizing that a “debriefing” is needed, empathy to those whose jobs are impacted by the critical event, and know when a recovery plan should be implemented (Flannes and Levin, 2005, pp. 3-6). The importance of these stages to project management theory is based on the recognition of the primary role a project manager has in coordinating and controlling factors that can send a project in the wrong direction. It is during challenges and conflicts that a project manager can provide among their most valuable contributions to the project overall (Sharma, 2012).
In the “doing the work” stage, some of the important interpersonal skills are being able to assume the role of facilitator, ability to motivate the team members individually, and making sure the team has a full vision of the project. In this stage the role project management theory plays is the importance at this time of effective team management. Motivation is particularly important at this time, especially in the current economic climate of almost continuous layoffs and high job instability (Flannes and Levin, 2005, p. 11). Finally, in the “project and team closure” stage it is important that a project manager can step into the mentor role to help transitions to the next project, use career management skills for self-help in reaching the next assignment, and provide stress management techniques during the transition period (Flannes and Levin, 2005, pp. 7-9).
It is interesting to note that there are four leadership roles highlighted in these stages that the project manager needs to master: project leader, people manager, facilitator, and mentor. In each of these cases, the project manager doesn’t have the advantages of office rank to help have the authority to effectively do these roles and get people to respond. Instead, the project manager must have the people skills to get the needed cooperation even without the position power. This skill set can be described as having the ability to influence without authority, or alternatively, lateral leadership (Harvard Management Update, 2008). Some of the skills involved in lateral leadership include networking, constructive persuasion and negotiation, consultation, and coalition building. All of these skills are key to being a successful project manager through the life cycle of a project (Harvard Management Update, 2008).
After this long recitation of many varied skills, the question becomes what skills do I currently have and what skills do I need to develop in order to become an effective project manager? I would state that I have the foundations of all of these skills in some form, if merely for recognizing the need for these skills in my future role. Certainly there are some skills that come easier and others that will need focus in order to develop. I believe that I am most skilled at the “coming together” aspects of project management and I am sensitive to the various approaches people have in trying to get something accomplished. I do recognize the need to be able to lead without having the authority behind me and I do think this skill will become easier over time, as I have had the chance to network within an organization and build coalition to support the cooperation needed.
Conflict and crisis management are skills that I will build with more experience in this area. Certainly hard won experience is a primary means of gaining skills in this area and I do hope that the lessons will not be too difficult. I plan to implement some of the conflict resolution suggestions of Sharma, such as problem solving, compromise, smoothing, and withdrawal and even forcing if a situation warrants it (Sharma, 2012). I feel more confident in my “doing the work” stage skills, as I believe I am a good motivator of others and that was a primary reason why I chose to go into the occupation of project manager. Finally, the requirements of “project and team closure” appear challenging and I do trust that experience in this area, helping myself and others transition to the next project, will be the best teacher in these skills.
British Broadcasting Company, 2013. The renovated Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam wins rave reviews, [online] Available at
< http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/entertainment-arts-22149807 > [Accessed 12 July 2013].
Flannes, S. W. and Levin, G., 2005. Essential People Skills for Project Managers. Vienna, VA: Management Concepts.
Harvard Management Update, 2008. Exerting influence without authority. Harvard Business Review. [online], Available at < http://blogs.hbr.org/hmu/2008/02/exerting-influence-without-aut.html > [Accessed on 12 July 2013].
Lock, D., 2007, The Essentials of Project Management. Hampshire, UK: Gower Publishing Limited.
Savage, M., 2013. Rijksmuseum set for grand reopening in Amsterdam, BBC, [online] Available at < http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/entertainment-arts-22024351 > [Accessed 12 July 2013].
Sharma, R. 2013. Workplace conflict resolution techniques for project managers. BrightHub.com, [online] Available at < http://www.brighthubpm.com/resource-management/66409-workplace-conflict-resolution-techniques-for-project-managers/ > [Accessed 12 July 2013].