Modern Network Architecture

Sep 6 2011   11:23PM GMT

The Triple Constraint

James Murray James Murray Profile: James Murray

In any network architecture project there is a triple constraint: Scope, Time and resources.   If a project is failing then probably one or more of these three variables are out of balance.   Saving a project means putting all three variables in some type of balance.  It’s ironic that as a project fails more and more energy is put into the wrong variable.  Almost like pumping water into the hold of a sinking ship.  How many project leaders are sinking their project by focusing on only one of the three variables?

I’ve noticed that the technologies that are profitable for the company also reduce the cost of doing business.  These technologies change the balance between these variable in a positive way.   For example: reducing production (time) always affects either scope or resources.   Ford realized that by focusing resources (money and employee time) on the assembly line and reducing scope (painting the Model-t “… any color as long as it was black”) he could increase the number of cars built each minute.  Through a combination of technology and business process the assembly line increased the number of cars built per hour at a cost that did not significantly increase the cost to produce each car.  At that time the only limit on company profitability was the number of cars that could be produced.

All technological innovation is like this.  Lewis and Clark took 13 months to walk across the country.  Add technology, like rail lines and locomotives and time is shortened.  Why walk when there are trains?  Who would ride a train, when planes are faster and more comfortable?  An interesting thing to notice is that as a technology matures it also becomes more efficient.  In the Lewis and Clark example, a new technology ended the need for walking and cut down the trip by more than half.   Now new transportation technology has replaced trains and changes travel time from months to hours.     Profitable technologies allow the exploitation of time, scope and/or resources. 

Triple Constraint Variables

Time: Time is a measurement of “Now” versus when the project is to be completed.  Milestones are associated with a measurement of time between now and completion.  Each milestone is associated with the tasks that make up the project.  The timing is successful when the tasks are completed at the predicted milestone.

Scope: Scope is associated with what is to be accomplished.  What will be accomplished is broken down into smaller and smaller increments called tasks.  Tasks have a predictable order, priority and milestone associated with them.  Successful tasks are matched with time milestones. 

Resources: Resources boil down to costs.  What will it cost to have a task completed?  This is complicated by time.  It’s not enough to calculate the cost of performing the task, but completing the task on time.  Success occurs when the actual cost associated with the task matches the predicted cost and time associated with that task.

The changing of any one variable will always affect the other two.  Increase the timing of the project and either scope can increase or the cost of resources can decrease.  Increase resources and either time can be reduced or scope can be increased.  Finally increase scope and either time must increase or resources must increase.  The company makes money when technology is architected such that the cost of using the technology has a positive reduction in time or resources. 

Henry ford spent more resources on assembly line technology and men to run the assembly line.  Yet In the process reduced costs and produced more automobiles.  The problem is that the other competitors soon recognized that they needed assembly lines to compete.  Soon the competitive advantage was lost.  Unless Ford built further competitive advantages, before his competitors caught up, Ford would fall behind.  In Ford’s day the assembly line was far less efficient than it is today.   100 years later, when the production lines run at full speed they are efficient, but produce far more product than can ever be sold.  Spending money to make assembly lines faster will no longer improve the bottom line for individual car manufacturers.

Today technology is the same way.  For our clients to be more competitive means these advantages must be architected into the design.  The purpose of change is to save the company money or make the company more productive.   Replacing technology with more efficient technology, just isn’t enough anymore.  If we look at network architecture now we are seeing waves of technology bringing in new change.  Yet most of those waves are replacing less efficient systems that do the same thing.  As an Example: When designing a network that includes cell phone access is that really new technology?  How much different is cell phone access to a network from an analog modem connections 40 years ago?  The only difference is now we can do in minutes what may have taken hours before.  True innovation doesn’t mean making the assembly line faster.  It means replacing the need for an assembly line.  Until we can do that, we need to remember that change affects the triple constraint in either positive or negative ways.

When evaluating new technologies ask the question, which variables will change?  Time, scope or resources…


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