The “Iron Triangle”, Redefined

In our first post, we introduced the unique challenge utilities face when balancing the need to deliver reliable service while making strategic investments to modernize infrastructure and systems to improve operations — all the while enhancing the overall customer experience. We also introduced the framework that has proven highly effective for managing these large-scale efforts.

Oftentimes the term “PMO” is associated with the common project management constraints of scope, schedule, and budget — the “Iron Triangle”. While important, we have found these three aspects are impacted by several other interdependent variables that must be managed and controlled to effectively achieve more predictable outcomes. However, the “Iron Triangle” should be understood with an appreciation to the uniqueness of grid modernization. It pays to have experience and foresight to identify the early warning signs of trouble to proactively mitigate risk (or capture a quick win). We offer some hands-on lessons learned that could be applied to a similar situation.

Schedule and project integration

Proper schedule and project integration requires a unique understanding of how all the pieces fit together considering the multitude of inter- and intra-dependencies of a large-scale program. This also means right-sizing an approach for your organization (standard project management tools, templates, etc.) and building in ample lead time based upon past grid modernization efforts, yet remaining practical to avoid major administrative burdens. More importantly, it is essential to establish proper communication across the business, IT, and other stakeholders. Properly branding the program and communication cadence will eliminate surprises and pro-actively identify points of integration and dependency that would have otherwise been missed.

For a large-scale AMI deployment, develop deployment launch checklists and schedule go-live challenge sessions with project teams and stakeholders. Label these “conference room pilots” and schedule them prior to go-live dates.

Scope and change control

Specific timing and delivery of scope will ultimately evolve over the course of executing a grid modernization program. The key is to ensure all changes to scope are identified, fully vetted, and communicated across all areas to ensure impacts are accounted for, and a consistent understanding exists moving forward. What may seem like a small change to one group, may have significant impacts on another.

For any large-scale deployment or technology upgrade, changes to scope can transcend across functions. Develop a scope change control process (using MS Visio) to display the steps required to submit, evaluate, accept, or reject, and ultimately communicate impacts. Use of an online scope change submission and tracking tool (such as SharePoint) can prove highly effective to improve visibility, accountability, and traceability of potential changes across functional groups.


The budget always matters, particularly for high-impact grid modernization projects that carry a large price tag, and subsequently a heavy set of expectations, both internally and externally. Small misses can lead to major financial impacts making transparent and timely reporting of financials a crucial element of success. An integrated set of reporting tools and pro-active methods for budget and contingency management is required. Budget should be in the team’s forethought and not an afterthought.

Strategic decision making for large grid modernization investment is generally supported with thoughtful planning and business case documentation. Developing the program budget with appropriate detail for capital and operations spend can best support ongoing financial management and governance. Develop budget management tools to track real-time actuals with detailed variance reporting. The budget management function must also have a thorough understanding of the processes required to report financials across various utility functions and management levels.

Now that we have a foundational understanding of the basis for the grid modernization project management model, we will focus our attention to managing the various resources that either contribute or are impacted by grid modernization efforts. Our next installment will explore how to best manage and utilize project delivery team resources, manage the various technical and field-services vendors, and communicate with the multitude of utility related stakeholders.

Author : West Monroe Partners

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