Can a project ever have quality as a constant when things change and time and cost are presumed frozen?
— Bill Cilley | Project Manager at AfideneIT

A study published in Physical Review Letters, by physicists Radu Ionicioiu et al., confirmed “that the three apparently reasonable classical assumptions—objectivity, determinism, and independence—are mutually incompatible with any theory” (Zyga). Lisa Zyga discussed the three classical assumptions in article, Could Classical Theory Be Just as Weird as Quantum Theory? Zyga indicated that “while any two of the three assumptions are compatible, all three are not.”

Basic Constraints: Time, Cost, and Quality

Zyga’s article proves a perfect analogy to the basic constraints on project management.  Projects are constrained by three elements: time, cost, and quality.   Let’s associate project terms with the physics analogy to help see the parallels.


  • Is It Good or Bad
  • Quality 


  • When Can It be Done?
  • Time


  • Compared to Alternatives
  • Cost

Most project sponsors will state hard constraints on all three, but in practice, only two of three can be honored simultaneously.

In traditional project governance, managing change and avoiding scope creep are in tight focus.  However, I propose that the primary purpose of project managers is first to ask stakeholders which two of the three project elements are the most important. The second purpose is to inform them what impact will take place on the third element.

My experience tells me that most stakeholders will cling to time and cost over quality because quality is the most difficult to measure. Thus, timelines and budget become the mandate. Project managers are familiar with stern words like, “We need this on time and on budget. I trust you won’t let any quality slip.” I understand that project teams have to pedal faster from time to time.  But in the end, are we so willing to let results vary?  If we cannot assert that quality suffers when time and cost are priorities, we compromise integrity.

Let’s Perform an Experiment

Now, let’s perform a thought experiment. We will see if a project can ever have quality as a constant when things change and time and cost are presumed frozen. Feel free to play along at home and see if you can break the “only 2 of 3” logic. OK, we’re in the middle of the project, and something changes. Already someone is doing something that wasn’t planned. Thus, to get all the planned activities complete in the allotted time, something is getting rushed. The quality is going to suffer. That quality slip can be as simple as a typo because proofreading was skipped. Such a simple slip then compounds into a misunderstanding. Sure, maybe nothing bad happens, but the door to quality compromise is now open.

The physicists in the article suggest that it seems most natural to drop the objectivity assumption. But as project managers, we should not allow sustained quality to be assumed when time and cost constraints are held fast in the face of change.

Thank you for reading, and let me leave you with this:  I am a project manager. I work for AfidenceIT. And I think about quality constantly.

Bill Cilley

Project Manager | AfidenceIT


Radu Ionicioiu, Robert B. Mann, and Daniel R. Terno. "Determinism, Independence, and Objectivity are Incompatible." Physical Review Letters. DOI: 10.1103/PhysRevLett.114.060405

Zyga, Lisa. "Could Classical Theory Be Just as Weird as Quantum Theory?" Could Classical Theory Be Just as Weird as Quantum Theory? N.p., 23 Feb. 2015. Web. 15 June 2015. Read more at