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Difference between a Waterfall Iron Triangle & Agile Triangle?

What Is The Traditional Iron Triangle?

What is the difference between the Waterfall Iron Triangle and the AgileTriangle? Let's start by defining what the traditional iron triangle really is. We all know that software projects in agile always have goals.

These goals include; what the project is expected to produce, the project's delivery deadline and the budget of the entire process. Managing these three components can prove to be quite difficult sometimes.

In 1969, Dr. Martin Barnes proposed the original iron triangle. In this approach product development is done using a waterfall approach which means that time and resources are variable while the scope is fixed.

Software teams using this approach will have to determine the project's scope by defining product requirements before they are able to start the project.

The schedule and resources are variable and are determined based on the fixed scope, The iron triangle's main objective is to provide software product teams with appropriate information in order to allow them to help the business by making effective trade-off decisions. 

An example is when teams are halfway through the project and they come to the conclusion that they might not hit the release date while using a fixed scope, the only options they have available to them when in this scenario is;

  1. Time (accepting a later release date) ‚Äč
  2. Resources (an addition of other workers to the project).

What Is The Agile Triangle?

The Agile Triangle is basically somewhat of an extension of what the traditional Iron Triangle is.

Jim Highsmith, the Agile luminary is originally the one that conceived this idea, where he claimed that the dilemma many agile teams are usually caught up with is that on one side they're being told to be adaptable, flexible and agile while on the other side they're being told to conform to Iron Triangle's pre-planned framework of cost, schedule and scope. Essentially they're advised to being as flexible as they can be.

Teams in the Agile realm are made to concentrate on the project's release rather than letting the Iron Triangle principles restrain them. So, using Jim Highsmith's school of thought, the Agile teams' main objective is to release the product. Everything else comes second to that, especially when it comes to Iron Triangle constraints.

The Agile Triangle collapses the Iron Triangle's three end points into one vertex The rest of the end points left such as value and quality will be the ultimate goals' definition, mainly because they need the most attention due to the fact that stakeholders usually feel that they're the most important. The Agile Triangle is trying to bring the traditional Iron Triangle way of thinking into the future.

Why The Need For The Agile Triangle?

The need and importance of the Agile Triangle are best described by Jim Highsmith when he stated that agility is all about being flexible when delivering customer value, which means that measuring performance using the traditional Iron Triangle principles of scope, schedule and scope can't possibly be effective if that's what you want to achieve.

If you want to be the most flexible you can be then focusing on quality, value and constraints, which is essentially the Agile Triangle, is what you'll need to conform to.

The difference when Agile Triangle methodology is practiced can be seen as follows:

  1. Scope Versus Value
    The scope of the project is important. It defines as well as outlines your project. One would think that if you are in Agile management your project scope should also include value, wouldn't you? In fact, your project value includes the scope at different levels and not just at the definition. Even though agile management can offer a lot of flexibility, too much of it isn't always the best thing.

  2. Schedule Versus Constraints
    Project schedules are usually fast and hard rules that you'll need to stick to, however, change will always occur. Defining constraints will help you with schedules and timelines within that particular project. The Agile triangle strategy concentrates on redefining scheduling rather than utilizing constraints.

  3. Cost Versus Quality
    Is the project's quality really represented by how much the project costs? The agile triangle school of thought is that quality should not be the project's end and only result. You should rather be concentrating on producing your desired quality and effect using flexible overall cost structures. Simple as that, so to speak, however, it's usually never easier said than done.

Is The Agile Version Better Than the Conventional Method?

As alluded in the previous sections of this article, the project requirement in traditional projects is determined upfront with a precise level of detail. Fixing a particular scope, time and cost help in setting your project up for failure.

This is due to the fact that when your timeline begins to approach its end or the budget looks to be running out you'll inevitably be forced to have to de-scope something which means leaving inventory behind and delivering less than what was originally specified upfront.

The principles that the Agile framework uses turns all this upside down, by avoiding to concentrate on specified upfront details which usually cause the unexpected end results or products that deliver less than what they were supposed to. 

The main objectives here is producing a vision that is well defined, decomposition of that vision into themes and then elaborating more specific feature details based on those themes' priorities.

Finally, the features with the highest priorities turned into stories while the stories with the highest priority turned into technical designs which all this then helps in the production of properly working software. 

This is the major reason why most IT professionals in Agile software development think that this technique is the better option.


When it comes down to it, Agile triangle edges out the Iron Triangle as being the better and more effective management and working approach in today's software development world. However, if you can fully understand both the approaches then the better for you for that will only help to make you a more efficient worker. Hopefully, this article has opened your eyes to something you may not have realized just yet.

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