The Magic Triangle of Quality
“Is it true? Can the magic triangle judge everything you do?”
Okay, well this isn’t exactly true but the magic triangle can judge how well you’ve done a certain task. It is a simple concept to grasp the quality of any work that anybody does and it is pretty flexible, meaning its easy to apply and use.
What is quality?
Quality is rather abstract. It’s kind of like a line in the sand that can’t be exactly shown.
Obviously most of us have a sense of quality that lines up with one another, but usually this is a result of comparing our (or other people’s) work against a certain standard (eg a different work, a guideline etc.)
This can help get the gist of what you are supposed to do, but how are you going to balance what you do to achieve the standard of “quality?”
Time, Scope and Cost — The Magic Triangle
Most endeavours that you will probably pursue will have three constraints to consider. These being time, scope and cost. Visualizing these elements give you the magic triangle…
Time: In this triangle time is the amount of available days, months, years etc, till your deadline.
Cost: In this triangle cost is the amount of money, manpower, resources etc. that you will need to feasibly complete your project. But it is also the time you will have to invest to make sure your project is feasible.
Scope: Scope is what you mean to achieve with your project and usually is the end goal that you are working towards
And since its applicable to almost any project, this also means its a great benchmark for quality. We can visualize quality as the result of these three factors as seen below.
For a greater effect, imagine quality as a delicate and fragile balloon that can easily get damaged… this will be useful for what we’re talking about next.
More, Fast or Cheap?
In an ideal project the world would be amazing and all three of these factors will magically appear in the perfect equilibrium. But unfortunately the world is not perfect and these factors usually have restraints.
Here’s an example of an instance where the scope is staying the same but the cost and time is reduced:
Here its pretty clear that quality is suffering. Our balloon is getting squeezed which is a major red flag and the only way to sustain good quality is to reduce scope or increase cost and time.
Furthermore, even keeping two factors constant and changing one of them damages the integrity of your project and by extension the quality.
Road-mapping Quality in Projects
If you’re main point is to deliver the most quality while staying within certain constraints the magic triangle is for you.
When you start a project you should map out your constraints. Chances are most of them will fall within these three criteria. By mapping them out, you can now see what exactly needs to be done to deliver maximum quality. You can see whether you will need to increase cost or time or whether your scope is unrealistic
Lets do an example:
I want to create a 100 page book in the next month by hiring someone to work 1 hour a day. Although I have a daily budget of $50 USD.
Okay so we can begin by breaking down our goal into the three categories.
- Time: Next month (30 days)
- Cost: $50 budget for 1 hour per day,
- Scope: 100 pages
Given some other factors like a) 100 page book would be ~250 words per page and b) For $50 the writer will write 500 words per hour gives us enough information to determine our quality.
Our scope is 100 pages meaning about ~25,000 words which is about 50 hours of writing. This however does not fit our 500 words x 30 days constraint which can only achieve 15,000 words. If we tell our writer to try to achieve 25K words while keeping all these stipulations, the quality will obviously suffer.
You can either increase the cost by increasing your budget and daily working time to achieve, change your deadline to later or reduce your scope to 60 pages to achieve the best quality.
Here is the concept of the magic triangle in action.
What Does this Mean to Me?
Our example was pretty one dimensional where the scenarios had obvious upsides and downsides.
Chances are your project is not going to be like that. And even more likely is that in our circumstances having the best quality might not be the goal. Although lowering cost and sacrificing quality is not inherantly negative, knowing that you are doing so is smart. This also helps line up different team member’s ideologies and goals to make sure your project meets whatever it aims to be whether that be quality, cost, time, scope are a combination of all these.
Now the choice is yours, happy building!