From triangle of iron to pyramid of paper straws



By Gareth Pugsley

Durham Gate, UK


The iron triangle has been one of the foundations of the APM style of project management and a building block of learning for students moving through the PMQ course, studied by many each year and taught by me for the last 6 years.

The origin of this paper takes the idea put forward by Dr Roger Atkinson (Atkinson,1999) and the changing of the iron triangle of project management. That being cost, quality and time. Within this paper he speaks about this being too fixed and the possible use for adding or replacing one with stakeholders.


The justification for a change in the 3 points on the triangle has been seen in enamour journals such as (Reynolds,2015) “ideas of ‘impact’ are coupled with a narrow use of the contingency approach, some less helpful ‘triangulated’ relationships might be evident.”

Literature review

The reason for the fourth member of the iron triangle of project management being risk is as follows (Šeduikis,2024) the concept of complexity being the justification for the idea.

The justification for this radical change from the iron triangle is simple. The concept of scope creep is defined as the extras meant to divert from a projects main goal and to reduce this from happening, which in my view is the main reason for project failure. This concept to be used as a diagram follows (Pollack, Helm, Adler,2018) from drawing on a database of 109,804 records from 1970 to 2015. Three corpora were constructed, representing the project management and Time, Cost, and Quality Management literature. Time and Cost are consistently identified as part of the Iron Triangle. The use of 3d allows the ability to imagine the result of the addition input having on the 3 but in a visual way having a great impact and more obvious in this manner than the 2d current. With stakeholders being the main cause of creep yet unable to see, but also the bases of what the project is about or for I have added them to the diagram. I have also added risk which is the other reason when not addressed or seen, the impact can cause projects to fail (Akoh, Sun, Ogunlana, Mahmud,2024)

As stakeholders’ downward pressure of change causes the impact to be catastrophic. If the needs to the stakeholder are downwards equal and take into consideration the 4 then no issues should arise. (Wicaksono, Setiawan, 2024)

The very fact that the original paper speaks of type 2 mistakes, and these could easily give weight to the reasoning behind this new concept as it should be tested to see if this does make a positive change. Now this concept of adding parts, topics to the iron bases has of late become popular. (Aljaber, 2024) with the differ of triangles dependant on methodology from liner to agile shape adds resources rather than quality to (Vahididi, Greenwood, 2009) their variation of shapes from David star to quadrantal and 5 pointe star. Why do these not meet what this study thinks it should. All these are 2 dimensional with only an ability to move in one direction if any item changes and so are restrictive. This restrictiveness too simplifies the issues and impacts that stakeholders can hold on a project and the directions scope creep can be pushed.


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How to cite this work: Pugsley, G. (2024).  From triangle of iron to pyramid of paper straws, commentary, PM World Journal, Vol. XIII, Issue VII, July.  Available online at https://pmworldlibrary.net/wp-content/uploads/2024/06/pmwj143-Jul2024-Pugsley-from-triangle-of-iron-to-pyramid-of-paper-straws.pdf

About the Author

Gareth Pugsley

Durham Gate, UK



Gareth Pugsley is a fellow of the Association for Project Management (APM) and head of the APM Risk Interest network. He is an APM teacher of 6 years to apprentices and has been published previously in the PM World Journal.  He holds 2 masters and undergrad degrees, all in project management, and looks forward to building a reputation in this field. He can be contacted at www.learningcurvegroup.co.uk