On a project management triangle, there is one key element that sits in the middle that must never be compromised and that’s safety.
Most Project Managers are familiar with the well-known project management triangle, first proposed by Dr. Martin Barnes, (a past president if the APM).
The three corners of the triangle represent the three fundamental criteria of project management, Time, Cost, Quality.
When British Rail was still a publicly owned organisation, I was as commissioned by APM to accredit the British Rail internal project management training course.
The project management training manual contained an interesting diagram which was a variation of the Barnes triangle, where the triangle was replaced by a diamond (or rhomboid) on which three of the four corners represented Cost, Time, Quality while the fourth corner represented Safety.
This diagram struck me at the time as a forceful way to emphasise the importance of safety for all aspects of railway operations. This particular representation also implied that safety was a separate criterion, which, though applied to all the project operations, gave the impression that it was administered, like quality, cost and time i.e.planning, by a separate group or department.
My own experience as Project Manager/Director with two of the largest construction companies in the UK convinced me that safety has to be an organic and integrated part of each of the three base criteria rather than a stand-alone discipline.
I felt that there must a better way to show graphically that safety has to be incorporated at every stage and phase, from the design, through to manufacturing, erection. commissioning and maintenance as well as the actual operation of the facility.
Safety even has to be considered at the costing stage, because good safety procedures and the resulting inspections, checks and tests cost money and must clearly be part of the design process, as the subsequent stages, i.e. manufacture, assembly, construction and commissioning all have to be carried out in a safe manner.
For example, a badly located valve may cause an operator to strain the muscles on his arms or back in order to operate it, while on site, temporarily placed equipment or materials must not block access to operating gear or restrict escape routes.
Safety and quality go naturally hand in hand, as even the smallest component not complying with the required quality standards could result in the disintegration of larger items of equipment with disastrous consequences.
The 1988 Piper Alpha oil rig explosion, which claimed 167 lives, the 2005 Texas City refinery explosion at which 15 men were killed, and the 2010 BP Deepwater Horizon catastrophe in the Gulf of Mexico at which 11 workers died, were all the result of equipment malfunction or failure. Exacerbated by the subsequent breakdown of communications and inadequate safety procedures.
In every case, apart from the loss of life and the grief and distress to the bereaved families of the victims, the resulting damage cost millions of pounds and ruined the reputation of the companies involved.
To emphasise this need to include safety in every facet of project management I proposed a modification of the project management triangle, where the three criteria remain as originally proposed by Martin Barnes, but Safety is placed in the centre of the triangle to show that all the other criteria must include safety.
This was accepted by the BSI drafting committee for project management in construction, who incorporated this modified triangle in the BSI PD 6079-4 “Guide to project management in the construction industry”
I strongly believe that this configuration should now be adopted for all other industries, especially manufacturing, transport (air, road and rail) and even IT.
During the life of the project, the project manager may sometimes be obliged to juggle the priorities between the core criteria, represented by the corners of the triangle.
He/she may have to increase the cost or reduce the specification in order to accelerate a delivery.
The purpose of this modified triangle is to emphasise that however important these manipulations might be, under no circumstances must any of these changes compromise safety as represented by its inclusion in the centre of the diagram.
Albert Lester, CEng. FICE, FIMechE, FIStructE, HonFAPM
Albert is a Chartered Engineer with a lifetime’s experience of project management in engineering design and construction. He has managed large projects for the likes of Tarmac, Sim Chem and Foster Wheeler Power Products and been involved with the Association for Project Management (APM) throughout his career, culminating in his role as an assessor for APM project management exams. He has taught and lectured widely on the topic and is a regular member of panels developing new project management standards and syllabuses. Albert’s q
is a Chartered Engineer with a lifetime’s experience of project management in engineering design and construction. He has managed large projects for the likes of Tarmac, Sim Chem and Foster Wheeler Power Products and been involved with the Association for Project Management (APM) throughout his career, culminating in his role as an assessor for APM project management exams. He has taught and lectured widely on the topic and is a regular member of panels developing new project management standards and syllabuses. Albert’s q
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