aLearning Blog

Online Learning for Trade Associations

Triple Constraint

Posted by Ellen on September 1, 2008

I don’t know about you, but for all the frustration budgeting brings, I’m still glad I’m faced with the struggle. Yes, you heard me correctly. Call me a silver-lining miner, but there’s something good in everything, including budgeting.

We all know how brutal the budgeting process can be. We head in with great ideas for improvements and new programs, only to have the financial guts ripped out of them. Or we survive but the essential marketing or membership support we need for success is stolen out of those budgets.

So what’s to celebrate? The budget process requires two things from me that I leave on one of the many backburners of my office stove: careful data analysis, and a chance to revisit the Triple Constraint.

I’ve addressed data analysis in other entries — the importance of tracking your registration income against expenses, of calculating the total cost of ownership to demonstrate the value of initial investment, among other things. But I was recently reminded of the Triple Constraint and saw it adapted to learning.

The concept of the Triple Constraint was first introduced to me in my last job in elearning at a Web company. It’s a project management term that refers to how if you change the Cost, the Time allowed for a project, or the level of Quality, then at least one of the other two is affected. For example, if we “gold-plated” a project for a client – added more online job aids or increased the number of on-screen interactions just because we knew it would make for a better course, we were increasing the Quality of the project. But we were also adding to the cost and probably the length of Time we needed to complete the project as well.

Adam Nelson, Chief Learning Architect at Ninth House, asserts that the learning equivalent of the Triple Constraint is Scale, Effectiveness, and Cost. If you change the Scale of what you’re offering – including longer sessions or accepting more attendees – then you are probably influencing the Cost of the event and perhaps even its effectiveness. Seek to increase the Effectiveness, and you’re likely to increase the Cost and reduce the Scale.

During this budget season, the Triple Constraint drives my budgeting decisions: if I increase the registration fee here, which side or sides of the triangle get pushed out of proportion? How do I balance all three?

In our association, Quality is king. We take pride in offering the best quality we can for the cost. This gives me a rationale for the decisions I make during the budgeting process.

And we all know that rationale helps when justifying expenditure requests, registration fee increases, or other necessary changes. We might not get our way, even with a solid argument, but at least we can anticipate the challenges that lie in wait, and sidestep them as best we can.

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