Beyond the iron triangle: evaluating aspects of success and failure using a project status model

Malcolm Bronte-Stewart

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


In the field of project management, time, cost and output are three fundamental factors that have been used to judge whether a project may be considered a success or a failure. The project management "Iron Triangle" has been used as a way to represent and highlight the connection between these three factors. Although the Iron Triangle can provide a useful tool for discussing the inevitable compromises inherent in most projects, especially when deciding constraints and objectives, it can be criticised. It is suggested here that the Iron Triangle model represents a limited view of project perspectives since it only focuses on three aspects, it ignores many of the more subjective and context specific issues and it fails to take into account important success criteria relating to emergent properties of what is produced by the project. A project may fail time, cost and output specifications yet be a success in the long run as far as the customer or the public are concerned. Conversely, a project may keep within these three constraints but be seen as a waste of time, money and effort. In this paper the author examines some famous project examples and discusses the difference between project success and product success. It is suggested that it would be beneficial to go beyond short term measurements such as meeting price, duration and specified requirements targets to include a wider range of indicators such as: benefits realization, risk management, stakeholder views, process simplification and efficiency, team performance, methodology issues and lessons learnt. Arguments are made for the establishment of a set of evaluation factors and the Project Status Model (PSM) is presented as a powerful way of analysing and illustrating these project assessments. The PSM offers a clear, visual way of displaying aspects of projects' current and historic success and/or failure from a number of viewpoints.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)19-36
Number of pages18
JournalComputing and Information Systems Journal
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 15 Nov 2015


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