Coaching Insight: The law of 2 out of 3

2 Out of 3Much of my corporate career focused on business systems development and information delivery.  A lesson I learned quite early from one of my favorite mentors was that the key to creating the right balance of stretch and reality for project commitments was to understand that when looking at the what, when and how much questions, we never actually get to define all three.  We really only get to define two out of the three.  We can decide which two are most important, but the third is always going to be determined by the other two.

It just didn’t seem plausible to me at first that you could tell someone that they could only have a say on two out of three of the parameters.  After all, the customer is still the customer and they get to say what they want to say.  Right? Wrong.  They only get to decide two out of the three.  They want to do X within time frame Y.  That means the cost is going to be Z.  Or they can say that they want to pay A and have it done within time frame B which in turn defines C (what will in fact get done).   And of course they could say that they want J to be done and they are willing to pay K which then creates L as the time frame possible.  It never failed in over 20 years of project scope definitions and commitments.  The law of two out of three.  You choose the two that are the most critical and the third gets set.  If the client didn’t like the third, they had to change one of the other two.

This law has been coming back to me quite a bit lately as I work on projects myself in my own life and business and am setting some targets to wrap up in the last half of 2014.   At first glance it would seem that the timing is set.  From now until the end of 2014.  That’s a clear time table.  So the next step is to look at the “list” of what I want to get done and the availability of resources (time & money) as what I’m willing to pay.  Because one is going to mandate the other.  Here’s where it can get interesting and we reveal more about what’s going on with us than we might see at the onset.

It really comes down to whether we are going to allow ourselves to be limited on the “what” or if we’re going to be willing to do “the thing” regardless of the cost.   In most cases, even when we say we will make that level of commitment, there is an unstated ceiling we’re working under.  Or at least that has been my experience personally and what I’ve observed professionally as a coach.  The reality is that the real constant is always what we’re willing to pay.  Until we really are willing to take that off the table as our criteria of choice and be prepared to truly commit whatever it takes the real choice is in results and timelines.  Because the law of two out of three does exist. Some food for thought as we all look ahead and make those choices.


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