Triple Constraint

team at a table

What is triple constraint?

Triple constraint entails completing a project within the described scope, using the budget allocated to do the work on time, and delivering a quality result. These aspects guide decision-making to plan and execute project requirements. Organizations make decisions knowing that triple constraint works as a guideline and that trade-offs may emerge.

Here are the basic elements of triple constraint:

Scope

Scope refers to what the team needs to achieve the desired project outcome. Organizations must plan and record all elements that create the project scope, such as design, finances, labor, and timelines. Accurately planning the scope influences how well organizations manage the other constraints.

Cost

Project managers must work within the defined budget to pay for all resources needed to achieve specified project goals. Deviations in this or other constraints impact the project cost.

Time

Time refers to schedules, deadlines, sprints, or other terminology used to manage certain project phases within specific time periods. Other aspects of triple constraint impact timelines, each dependent on the other to get the job done as mandated by the client.

Quality

Scope, cost, and time impact project quality. Organizations need to constantly monitor each component to achieve desired outcomes.

Although the traditional triple constraint comprises scope, cost, and time elements, alternative formulations include a fourth element of quality at the center of the triangle to accommodate specific industry or project needs.

Why triple constraint matters in project management.

Triple constraint matters in project management because its components integrally link with the quality of the outcome and the project’s success. Ignore any of the crucial elements of triple constraint, and your project gets into trouble quickly. Consider all triple constraint elements throughout the project duration, and you may achieve the desired result without going too far beyond its borders. 

Here’s why triple constraint matters in project management:

Establish realistic goals and expectations.

Set realistic goals and expectations in the overall project plan. Triple constraint guides these aspects, so project managers should use this framework in conjunction with suitable project management methodologies and software to determine timelines to achieve expected outcomes. 

If you realistically establish goals with input from key stakeholders, you are more likely to meet expectations within anticipated parameters, even when goals change. 

Clarify crucial choices to keep the project on track.

Establish critical aspects from the start of the project with comprehensive project planning and by presenting requirements. A comprehensive scope, completion requirements, and a work breakdown structure serve as a map that gives direction to the entire team.  

If timing is more relevant than budget, weigh decisions against the other elements. Set additional parameters related to budget and quality, with schedules retaining a central emphasis when developing the project scope. Understand the value of rapid pivoting to do what is needed to keep your project on track. 

Communicate limitations and trade-offs to clients and stakeholders.

Project management is a dynamic practice with moving parts. Keeping a watchful eye on these parts takes experience and diligence. Avoid conflicts by discussing limitations and trade-offs with clients and stakeholders when an obstacle begins to manifest.

Tackle problems early on with transparent communication, which is vital to working within triple constraint parameters—especially given the fact that more than half of projects fail due to insufficient reference to these restrictions. 

Align execution with identified priorities.

Develop a plan that prioritizes certain tasks ahead of others to create a functional workflow. Establish and monitor milestones, and take corrective action as required. Set up procedures to follow when changes are requested to ensure that milestones are adhered to as closely as possible.  

Promote a culture of empowerment through command and control, where everyone takes the initiative rather than thinking, “it is someone else’s responsibility.” Always align project execution with strategic goals

Analyze past or present challenges.

Generate a system to manage change as part of the project review process. Change challenges the triple constraint concept, quickly encouraging scope creep. Scope creep can rapidly escalate unless stringently managed. 

Advise team members to deal with problems immediately, empowering them to commit to project outcomes. 

Analyze past and present project issues to improve control through continuous learning. End every project with a comprehensive post-mortem review

Set and maintain project constraints.

People, processes, and prerequisites are vital to every project’s success. Assign roles, create schedules, and define plans—and integrate and tightly manage these requirements to accomplish the desired outcomes.

Determine standards in the planning phase to manage constraints. Define change procedures, corrective action processes, and how to deal with escalation when working with restrictions. These elements are also key to setting and maintaining triple constraints. Implement the appropriate software to support your chosen project methodology to recognize and control project constraints in an integrated manner.

Overcome constraints with effective leadership.

Triple constraint is a recognized concept in project management for a good reason. Observing the parameters in this triangle impacts the entire course and outcome of the project. Effective leaders are aware of triple constraints and how project managers can manage them to deliver successful projects.

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