triple constraints of project management
Project managers who understand the triple constraints of project management have a higher chance of achieving quality outcomes

Project managers who firmly grasp the triple constraints of project management have a higher chance of achieving quality outcomes that are within the defined scope and budget of the project plan. Your strong understanding and use of this project management concept can provide your plans with benefits including well-trained project sponsors and teams, lower costs, clearly defined project scope and happy customers.  Use these ideas when having discussions with clients, your project teams, executives and project sponsors.  When you do, you’ll subliminally train them to think like project managers.

As a project manager, the triple constraints of project management should always be on your mind.

What are the triple constraints of project management?

The triple constraints of project management are also referred to as the Project Management Triangle, the Iron Triangle, and the Project Triangle.  It’s been around since just after WWII and states that:

  1. The quality of the project’s outcome is constrained by cost, timeline, and scope.
  2. The project manager can create trade-offs between constraints.
  3. Changes in one constraint require changes to the other limitations or the outcome will suffer.(Wikipedia, 2008)

When one corner of the triangle is either increased or decreased there could be a corresponding change to the other two corners; this ensures high-quality outcomes.  For example:

  • If costs increase, depending on if the reason is scope and time, then schedule and scope are impacted.
  • If scope increases, there should be a corresponding increase in cost and schedule.
  • If time increases, there could be a corresponding change in scope and cost.

Each of these, cost, time, and scope, can be used in almost any discussion with project stakeholders.  For example:

The project stakeholder can’t go live when scheduled due to other constraints.  This could increase costs of labor to restart the project or put it on pause.  It will not affect the scope, but there will be trade-offs the client must make to put the project on hold.  Trading a change in the schedule for an increase in cost may be appropriate.

Another more widespread example is when the scope changes.  There could be a corresponding change in cost and schedule.  There may be an increase in resources to accomplish the project on-time, but they come at a cost.

Using the triple constraints as a tool to improve customer satisfaction and project quality

With each decision gate in the project, there will be opportunities to change the scope, schedule, and cost.  The savvy project manager will always look for the corresponding trade.  More scope = more cost and time.  The same time frame required?  Then, more resources added to the project = more cost.

Including the triple constraints in your status update

With each project meeting, there’s an opportunity to improve quality and value of the product by adding to the scope, increasing the cost and making changes to the project schedule.  Use the project constraints triangle as a standard item in your status updates and set them as a heading:

  • Changes to Cost,
  • Changes to Scope,
  • Changes to Schedule.

Having your constraints spelled like this in your status updates will train your project sponsor and your team that there are consequences to all changes to the project.

The triple constraints apply to any project management practice that starts with a defined scope; it applies to construction, marketing, software development, etc. Use the triple constraint in all your discussions and hang our infographic on the wall of your cube or office.

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