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Triple constraints of project management: all you need to know

Aastha KocharLast Updated: October 17, 2022

Predicting the future of a project is extremely hard. Under project management, you might never know when you will encounter an unexpected hindrance that will stop the project from achieving its goal. It can be anything – the project going over budget, more features adding to the scope, or failure to deliver on time. 

Hence, as a project manager, you must initially specify some budget, scope, and time restrictions. These are called triple constraints of project management. When working with a client, these constraints help your company from getting exploited and receive fair compensation if they suddenly require a change. Read on to learn more about triple constraints and how they can help your business.

What is the triple constraint in project management? 

Triple constraints in project management, also known as the iron triangle or the project management triangle, is a concept that consists of three limitations or constraints every project should have.

But what are the three constraints of project management? These three constraints are:

  • Scope: Tasks to be fulfilled under the project.
  • Time: Schedule projects according to how much time they will require.
  • Cost: Total budget or costs that the project will incur. 

As you can notice, any change in one constraint affects and alters the other two. The concept highlights that these three elements directly affect each other, and you cannot change the quantities or qualities of one without sacrificing the others. For example, if you’re changing the scope of a project and adding more features, then the time to achieve and cost to fulfill that would increase directly. The same is the case with the other elements as well. 

Want to understand what are the different constraints of project management better? Jump to the next section!

A triple constraint example

Image source: Tensix.com

There are different constraints under the three elements that you can incorporate into your business planning and project. They are:

  • Project design or architecture: Using specific designs to deliver the requisite solution. 
  • Third-party commitments: You might have to meet the requirements of a third party and make arrangements according to the contract.  
  • Staffing: You might not have access to the exact resources, like staff, to meet the complete requirements of the project. 
  • Physical: You’ll have to fit your deliverables according to the available space, which can limit the scope. For example, components of an electrical good. 

Also read: Product management vs product management: 5 key differences

Triple constraints of project management: How do they work?

While each element has to be managed successfully, it cannot be carried out in isolation since a change in one will affect the other two. To successfully manage them together, you need to:

  1. Work with the client

Whether it is internal or external, it is integral to understand what exactly your client wants. Find their budget, timeline, and scope before starting the planning process. If the client isn’t sure, then use the concept of triple constraints to weigh your options and decide the potential tradeoffs. 

Even though the project will undoubtedly have changes along its execution process, it is best to set some achievable and fair goals. 

  1. Have a clear idea about the project scope

For the sake of better execution, it is vital to keep your team members in the loop and informed about the project’s scope and responsibilities. They should be acquainted with the elements of the plan and the expected outcomes. 

The scope will ensure that everybody involved knows what needs to be delivered. So, whenever the team members or clients want to change any of the elements, they have an idea of what impact it will have.

  1. Issue deadlines

Issuing strict and achievable deadlines with a schedule is quite important to keep the project on track. Having a deadline ensures that, even with changes in scope, the results get delivered around the forecasted time.

  1. Allot resources judicially

Be careful while allotting resources and only pick individuals with the proper skill set to use them. You can set your project to a successful run by correctly assigning the equipment and funding. 

Why is the triple constraint theory important for project success? 

No matter how well it has been planned out, every project needs to have some guardrails. These guardrails need to be conceptualized and agreed upon at the very beginning of the project to avoid any circumstantial problems. Moreover, they help clarify what trade-offs can be made and how they should be weighed. 

The triple constraints, consisting of scope, time, and cost, allow the project managers to deduce external factors that can influence the project and plan the future accordingly. 

So, as is evident, triple constraints play a crucial role in any project, but will only be useful if applied successfully. 

3 Tips for managing the triple constraint

Want to apply the triple constraints in your project effectively? Here’s how:

1. Follow the guidelines and regularly communicate with the client

Once you’ve established the guidelines and set values with the client, be sure to stick to them and avoid any deviation. If there are any changes from the stakeholders’ end, then ensure that you receive fair compensation. 

2. Include new elements in the three-part model whenever necessary

While triple constraints have been used for decades, modern interpretations give leeway for more elements. It can include the project’s risks, quality, and potential benefits. 

3. Consult with the staff members

Before making any changes to the triple constraints, consult your team members once. Ensure that your decision is feasible and will help achieve the right balance. For example, the department heads can inform how the change will affect their team and work. 

The opposing view: why some think the triple constraint model doesn’t work

While business experts agree that the triple constraints are effective in businesses producing physical products, it has become less relevant under the digital scenario. In his research paper, project management expert Wei Lee says that the concept no longer suits the complex scenario of today. 

Moreover, he states the elements that affect the project are out of the reach and scope of the manager. Hence, making it impossible to manage the project’s influences and demands in advance. 

Bottomline

So, now you know what is the triple constraints of project management. The three elements – scope, cost, and time – are the determinants of effective project management and successful business. The project managers are responsible for executing these elements and carrying out any required trade-offs. 

Using these triple constraints of project management, you can set an achievable scope with a set deadline and budget and see to the success of a project. You can also use project management software like Flow to help you plan it out better and focus on things that matter.

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