The Three-Legged Stool: How to Be On Time and On Budget Without Sacrificing Quality

by Jon Ogden
, 4 min read
project management on time, on budget, good quality

Most of us have heard that you can’t have it all; a project can’t be on time, on budget, and high quality. Something has to give. If you want to meet a strict deadline or come in under budget, you’ll have to compromise on quality. It’s known as the “triple constraint” of project management, and theoretically, you can only pick two.

If this sounds like the way projects on your team work, you’re in good company. A survey of 1,500 project leaders, sponsors, project managers and change managers found that 44% of projects missed at least one of the three benchmarks of time, budget, and quality.
But, what if there is a way around this? Maybe with the right planning and forecasting, you can have it all!

Being a project manager is all about finding the perfect balance.

constraints time budget quality

Making sure a project is done on time, on budget, and maintains high quality is like building a three-legged stool. One leg can’t be shorter than the others, or the stool will tip over.

The Current Predicament 

The biggest thing holding teams back from successfully meeting deadline, budget, and quality standards is a lack of planning. If you don’t plan to meet these criteria, your chances of accidentally balancing that three-legged stool are slim to none.

Many teams find themselves so focused on rushing through tasks that they have no choice but to sacrifice quality just to complete a project on time. Things like ad hoc work, last-minute requests, poor planning by other departments, and a general lack of work management all force teams to prioritize time over quality.

The same is true for budgeting. In many cases, budgeting isn’t taken into consideration early enough in a project’s development, so teams find themselves scrambling to make the numbers work, even if that means putting quality aside. 

It’s unfortunate that deadlines and budget overshadow quality and prevent teams from producing their best work. In reality, high quality is just as important—and maybe even more important—to a company’s bottom line. Quality is just easier to sacrifice than time and budget in the heat of the moment.

But, it doesn’t have to be that way.

How to Meet Deadlines and Budgets Without Losing Quality

So, how do you meet deadlines, stick to a budget, and maintain quality? It all starts with solid planning, and these steps will help:

1. Plan in Advance and Build in Buffers
Planning shouldn’t start days before your team is set to hit the ground running with a new project. It should start weeks—or even months—in advance. This will give you plenty of time to assign tasks and anticipate challenges or roadblocks.

While creating your timeline, build in slack time, or extra time at key points, just in case things don’t go exactly as planned. For example, you may find it helpful to give yourself a week between a piece of collateral’s approval deadline and the day it should be sent to the printer.

A realistic and well thought out timeline will make it possible to meet deadlines, stay on budget, and still create high quality work.

2. Use a Solid Request Management System
When requests are coming at you from all directions—in meetings, through email, and in the hall—it’s impossible to plan well, let alone produce high-quality work.

Implement a solid request management system and require everyone to use it, with no exceptions. The key to making this work is to choose one system, like a work management platform or even a single email address (like [email protected]), and make it clear that unless a request comes through this channel, your team won’t be able to fulfill it. 

3. Keep Scope in Check
Whenever additional components are added to a project, deadlines and budgets are no longer accurate. This means they will either need to be revisited or the quality of the project will suffer in order to get more done with less than the ideal amount of time and money.

To avoid being in a situation where sacrificing quality is even an option, define your project’s scope early on and if it changes midway through a project, remember that to maintain quality you’ll have to balance the other two legs of the stool—deadline and budget—equally. 

The Project Management Hut points out that while project scope is often neglected, it’s one of the most important parts of project planning: “The scope keeps structure on the time, resources, and budget associated with the project.”

4. Make Budgeting Part of Planning
Strategic budgeting will make it possible to achieve high quality, but it needs to be done as part of project planning, not as an afterthought. During the planning phase, ask yourself these questions:

  • What can we realistically accomplish with the amount allotted? 
  • What kind of budget will we need to do this project the right way?
  • What elements can be eliminated to make more room in the budget if needed?
  • What roadblocks could keep us from staying on budget? How will we address them?

This kind of planning will ensure that your budget will help—rather than hinder—your efforts to accomplish high-quality results.

5. Don’t Stop Communicating
One of the most important things you can do to balance the three-legged stool, and avoid sacrificing quality, is continually communicate. Always communicate with your team, manager, and stakeholders throughout the project.

project management communication

In one survey, 43 percent of project managers said that communication problems were a key factor in the failure of projects.
Constant communication through an operational system of record will keep everyone on the same page, so maintaining deadlines, budgets, and quality will be a doable balancing act that ensures projects reach their fullest potential.

Despite what some think, it is possible to have it all: projects that are done on time, stay on budget, and boast a level of quality that all stakeholders will be satisfied with. As you plan your next project, use these tips to make balancing your three-legged stool a little easier.
 

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