I have worked on two start-up firms and observed that our product managers over promises (at least from my vantage) to our client always.

The projects in which our team members have been worked out has predominately involved the following factors:

  • high scope,
  • less time &
  • less resources (always one developer).

The consequences are that developers are exhausted daily and gradually lose interest on the job, leading to a poor quality product which makes all of us unhappy.

How to balance the triangle effectively, at least to the decent extent so that my team member and client are happy? :)

  • What's your role? Are you the PM, a developer, or something else? Perspective matters.
    – Todd A. Jacobs
    Commented Sep 12, 2013 at 19:40
  • @CodeGnome: PM, project manager bridge between developer & client once after project start kicks off.
    – Mani
    Commented Sep 13, 2013 at 2:57

5 Answers 5


There is a reason they call it the "iron triangle". Like another said, it often rights itself, but if all corners are fixed then quality or lack there off is often what is sacrificed.

You get to choose one, in reality. If you are fixing cost/resources by having one dev, then that leaves you time or scope. If you have a deadline, then that leaves scope. This is why many startups use Lean Start-Up techniques and Agile Development to manage their scope while dealing with constraints of time and cost without sacrificing quality.

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Key points of agile that help with your balance - increase communication (daily) - reduce your features/scope in progress to only what you can do in 1-2 weeks (scrum) - prioritize your scope - get an idea of how quickly you are completing your scope (in reality) - demo/review with your client completed scope every 1-2 weeks - set yourself up to welcome change in scope (cause in a startup....you have to!)

There are lots of resources online on how to do lean and/or agile development.

Good luck!


Generally a Project Manager is not the only person involved in estimation. They may involve some technical members who have experience of executing or who may be actually working on those projects.

The Project Manager may need some help with estimations and work-breakdown which is normal. However, after it has been done and before it is sent to the client, the estimation should be reviewed from scope, time and cost perspectives. Also, the Project Manager should have valid justifications for the time and cost estimations of the agreed upon scope.

I would suggest that you first review the estimates and then talk to your Project Manager and may also get it reviewed with other team members in a way that it does not challenge the role of the Project Manager.

If anything unusual is found the Project Manager is accountable and answerable.

If a project has been estimated there are other means too to monitor the project progress to ensure that the project is going on the right track and that the team-members are not exhausted while working on it.

Talk to your Project Manager with the intent to find solution to this problem. It may not workout instantly. You may have to give some time to the Project Manager to adapt.


The triangle balances naturally. You can independently fix or manipulate one or two of the sides, but the third is dependent and will adjust to balance. But this is not your problem.

Estimating is not your problem, either. You can estimate all day using all the tried and true leading estimating practices and it will not touch your dilemma.

There is a difference between an estimate, a target, and a planning value. An estimate is a probabilistic range, a target is what your customer or bosses may "dictate," and the planning value is a discrete value that lives somewhere on your estimate range, which can be optimistic, just right, or pessimistic.

Your issue is with the target. A target can live somewhere in the range, just like the planning value, but can also be a value no where near it, e.g., a number established as "price to win."

Your organization sounds very aggressive in its approach to win business. I would further suspect it is going into a piece of work with its eyes wide open, meaning they know what they are doing and they are accepting the associated risks and issues. Maybe their approach is using the initial contract as a loss leader, knowing they will certainly lose money on it but the relationship will lead to additional, more profitable business. I don't know their strategy, certainly, but I have seen this behavior more and more in very recent times, likely consistent with our current economical situation. After all, providing super planning values and estimates will do you no good if you lose the business to someone else.


This seems to be issue of collaboration, communication with in the team and estimations of the work.

Review internally the scope, estimations and resources required with the senior team members and if needed whole team. Once internally every one has one agreement convey your estimations to client. If there is any scope change follow the change contol process or as a team revisit again. This way team is always with you and feel part of team.


One means of dealing with this might be to suggest that an interim release could be made - perhaps using an "agile" approach in principle. This would give you something that could be delivered in less than the permitted time, at a lower than budgeted cost, and with substantially reduced scope. You work it out to be realistic. Then when you deliver, it will be clear that the extra scope cannot be delivered in the remaining time and or cost, so the project has to be renegotiated - but not by you.

It is devious and underhand, and not something that I would normally support, but it may just get you off the hook. And you never know - it may be that when you deliver using this model, the client likes what he gets, asks for changes to the original specification, and is happy to renegotiate accordingly. That would be a win-win situation!

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