EFFECT - Ethics and the Time, Cost, Quality Triangle

Elderly man holding a shovel

If you have ever tried to “go ethical” on anything, whether it is a new process, or product, or method, there is something that you probably realised very soon. It is either more expensive, worse quality, or takes longer. I want to talk about this in relation to the time, cost, quality triangle (also called the Iron Triangle or the Project Management Triangle).

For those of you that don’t know, the Time Cost Quality Triangle is a concept that is used in project methodology to understand how one change in variable will impact on other variables. It looks like the diagram below:

A triangle with the word cost written on one corner, time written on another corner and quality written on the last corner


Essentially it works like this: Let’s say you are planning a holiday, you have an idea of where you want to go, and what the holiday will be like, you have a budget, and you have the time that it takes to research and book the holiday. 

Any change to one variable will effect all the others. 

For example, if you realise that you don’t have enough money to afford the original budget, then either the quality of the holiday that you can afford will go down, or the time to research and book the holiday will go up, as you spend more time looking for bargains. 

Or if you want the quality of the holiday to go up as you want to do some extra activities, or you want a hot tub onsite, then the cost of the holiday goes up, or the time spent researching and booking goes up. 

Or if you want to decrease the amount of time researching and booking the holiday, then either the cost goes up (as you have less time to look for bargains) or the quality goes down.

Essentially the same is true for everything we buy or do. 

If you buy a cheaper house cleaning product you are either spending more time cleaning to get it to work, or you have a reduced quality output. 

If you want better tasting food (quality) then you either pay more money or you spend more time looking for reduced priced quality food (or growing it / preparing it yourself).

Now the bit where we want to concentrate is when we start to put ethics into the mix. This is where we want the process, methods and products that we buy / consume / use to have a better impact on the earth and on the people involved in the process.

This ethical element has a knock on effect. The reason for this, is that if a company could do the product / process ethically at the same cost / time / quality then they would.

If a corporation could sell a cleaner made of earth friendly ingredients that worked just as well as the current one they sell at the same price, they would.

If a corporation could create clothing organically and pay the garment workers a good wage, and still sell the clothing at a competitive price, they would.

Most corporations aren’t inherently evil, they don’t sit around planning how to wreck the environment or exploit people. Instead they have a legal responsibility to serve the best interests of their shareholders by creating products that they can sell; products that save time, or increase the quality of the consumers life, at a competitive cost.

Essentially business is a reflection of the human psyche.

The things that matter to people, matter to the organisation.

In the midst of the financial crisis, discount stores flourished. Why? Because the consumer wanted cheaper goods to cope with the decrease in budget. 

So how do we get corporations to care about people / the environment? We start to care, and allow that to be reflected in our buying choices. When we show that we are willing to either pay more, spend more time, or have a reduced quality, so that we can care for people and care for the environment, only then will corporations be able to listen to us.

May we be those that put others before our own personal comforts, may we be those that start to really think about the effects of things we buy on people and on the environment, and may we allow this reality to seep into the core of our being and change the way that we live.

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