Defining the Project Management Triangle & Its Importance

April 4, 2023
4 minute read

What is the Project Management Triangle?

The project management triangle is a visual reference to the three primary constraints of a project: scope, budget, and time, and illustrates the correlation between each in terms of project quality. The project management triangle also goes by many names, including but not limited to:

  • The triple constraints of project management,
  • The iron triangle of project management,
  • The project triangle, or
  • The agile triangle

Project managers must balance the three constraints to ensure project success by preparing for the effects of adjusting one constraint on the others, depending on agreed parameters with their team or client. 


The Triple Constraints of Project Management

1. Scope

Scope refers to the boundaries of a project, mainly defined by the work needed to accomplish the final deliverable, which ranges from results to products, or services. By extension, the scope serves as a guide for what is not included, which means no cost is incurred on those requirements. In the event of scope creep, an increase from the original time and cost is necessary—otherwise, a rigid schedule or a static budget will result in missing or poorly implemented features.

2. Cost

Cost refers to resources that are necessary to project delivery. This mainly refers to the cost of hiring and keeping manpower to work on the project, but it also includes indirect expenses such as office space, equipment, and licenses, among others. Budget is the most common alternative name for this constraint. Project managers often need to keep costs below the projected value of a project for it to be successful. Cutting costs without adjusting the scope of a project is likely to create delays; reversely, a strict schedule with a lowered budget will force a team to ship with incomplete features and a lower-quality output overall.

3. Time

Time refers to an agreed schedule between the team and the client. This includes when the project starts when it ends and the duration in between, and it may outline various milestones or deadlines throughout the project that need to be met to stay on track. Again, scope creep is the biggest enemy of a strict schedule, as it requires additional cost to accomplish more within a rigid time frame, whether that’s purchasing better equipment or hiring more resources to work on the project. External factors may also directly hinder project progress, which may require a similar increase in cost or a reduction in scope to keep the project on schedule.


Why The Project Management Triangle Matters

As we’ve outlined above, the iron triangle illustrates your chances of project success. Acknowledging and balancing your project’s constraints sets you up in the following areas:

1. Risk Management

A change in one constraint can cascade into problems with the rest of your agile triangle, and more moving parts equate to greater risk. By planning for how adverse effects in one constraint affect the others with a risk management plan, you can mitigate or even prevent the project from going off the rails.

2. Prioritization

Reducing uncertainty on a project allows teams to work with confidence and ease, and when there are fewer moving parts or clear constraints, project managers can more effectively allocate their resources. It pays to set clear expectations with your client about which part of the triangle takes priority—is your team working against an immovable deadline? How flexible can the features/scope be? Is there a hard limit to the budget initially? By having a clear picture of just how rigid (or flexible) each of the constraints are, project managers can shift their attention to where their control can add the most value to the project.

3. Client Communication

Having a clear grasp of your project’s constraints makes it easier to set clear expectations with your client, as the model provides a simpler way to picture the extent of the effects on their decisions over the three constraints. For project managers, this aids in communicating a team’s needs to clients, especially when they are less technical or involved. For example, what might be a simple request to them to add on to an existing feature translates to a considerable amount of time or bandwidth to accomplish; having the model ready makes it a breeze to outline the other considerations that your client might be missing.


Managing Your Project Management Triangle

After understanding the concept and importance of the project management triangle, here are a few tips on how to use it to its maximum potential.

1. Set clear priorities 

While every project has its limitations, it is highly advised to keep at least one constraint flexible. When all three constraints on a project are fixed, it prevents the team from adjusting to change, especially on longer projects, which can severely affect quality.

When the budget is tight, for example, more time may instead be added to the project instead of hiring more staff to help. For strict timelines, it would be wise to negotiate for a higher budget, so you can easily add resources to address issues without causing any delays.

2. Communicate with stakeholders

Once you have priorities and flexibility clarified, it’s important to align these expectations with your stakeholders to prevent any misunderstandings and lack of satisfaction in the deliverables. This is especially important in production-oriented industries, as there can be many unforeseen issues that arise over the course of the project—one might prepare for this by preparing a contingency budget, as well as a contingency plan and estimates for addressing as many issues that can be anticipated on a project.

Orient your stakeholders on the possible scenarios, and allow them to contribute to the action plan, so that everyone shares accountability and understanding for when changes need to be made to the project.

3. Establish a risk management process

The visual representation of the project management triangle itself is a risk management tool—use this to identify potential obstacles under each constraint, and how they might affect the other points, so you can plan ahead and engage the previous tips as early as possible. That way, changes are detected and acted on early, which can do wonders for minimizing costs and staying on schedule.

4. Use an appropriate project management style

Depending on your priorities, the best methodology for managing your project may need to change as needed. Some of the most common options are:

    • Waterfall, which favors flexible scheduling—since each phase must be completed in order, any delays in one will require an adjustment to all the phases that follow.
    • Agile, is a top choice for time-sensitive projects—due to the rigid schedule, flexibility in all other aspects is critical, so teams can better adapt to changes while tightly managing associated costs.
  • Lean, a budget-driven method—extended timelines or constant iteration on the scope are used to keep the project within a set cost.

Learn more about other possible approaches here.


Optimize Constraints for Quality with Workamajig

The project management triangle is a handy guide for identifying risks affecting the cost, time, scope, and ultimately, the quality and success of your projects.

With Workamajig, the premier marketing management software, you have an all-in-one solution for managing your tasks, deadlines, and resource allocations to find the most optimal path to delivery. Easily adjust your schedule or modify task requirements to adapt to changes in your project, and use native reporting tools to maintain alignment with your stakeholders.


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