Using the Nickolaisen Model to Break the Project Management Triangle
How does the Nickolaisen Model help us to break or shatter the project management triangle? It's a powerful way to focus and simplify project scope. Let's examine a typical example.
For the third time, we were gathering the requirements for a sales force automation (SFA) system. The previous two attempts at designing an SFA system had failed because no one had been able to figure out how to design for all of the local variations in how the sale force operated. Each region and territory had its own way of quoting jobs, tracking the sales pipeline, and generating forecasts, with the Eastern region being adamant that if they had to change these processes, their customers would disappear. This complexity had overwhelmed both the sales function and IT.
I had just been hired and was handed this third attempt at the SFA project. I suppose the company figured that the SFA project was a good way to find out whether I was actually worth the money they were paying me.
At the project kickoff meeting, rather than draw the project management triangle, I drew the Nickolaisen Model and asked this question: Were our sales force processes and business rules Differentiating or Parity? The initial reaction was that, since the SFA was customer-facing, it must be Differentiating. As we probed deeper into the functionality of the business rules, however, it became clear that the specific features and functions were Parity. For example, we needed to generate and track quotes in the SFA. But did we gain market share and win customers with the mechanics of how we generated and tracked customer quotes and proposals? No, these mechanics were mission-critical but were not how we won in the marketplace.
As soon as the assembled project team recognized that our proposal and quoting process was Parity (rather than Differentiating), the team also recognized that there was no competitive advantage in each sales region and area having its own unique process for generating and tracking quotes. It was as if blinders fell from their eyes. The sales manager from the Eastern region realized that there was no real rationale for his unique method for generating and tracking sales quotes. Once the team realized that this aspect of the SFA was a Parity activity, the entire team was willing to accept a standard process for sales quotes. Aligning around the purpose of this process removed the emotions and allowed us to design and implement a simpler SFA, based on best practices. We broke the project management triangle.
Here's another example. A software company was planning a major rewrite of its flagship product. The initial project plan included nearly 3,000 function or story points. The company expected this project to last 18 months and cost millions of dollars. Before launching the product, the company invited me to review the project plan. I drew the Purpose Alignment on the conference room whiteboard, explained the model, and asked, "Which product modules and functions will really differentiate you in the marketplace?"
Our first step was to understand how this company created its sustainable competitive advantage. Sustainable competitive advantage helped us to identify the differentiating functionality. We explored how we could make the differentiating elements of the software even better. With this done, all other functions and requirements fell into the Parity category. For the Parity function and story points, we found ways to reuse existing code, reduce exception handling (rarely is there any market advantage in supporting exceptions to Parity activities), and simplify the software design.
When we were done, about 15% of the project was to support Differentiating activities. For the 85% of the activities that were Parity, good enough was good enough. The combined impact on the project was a better productwe had made the Differentiating features even betterat a reduced cost and much shorter timeline. It turned out that making the Parity functions "just good enough" cost a lot less time and money. For this software company, Purpose Alignment shattered the constraints of the project management triangle.