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Project Management Triangle: All You Need To Know

Updated on February 24, 2024By

Project managers play a pivotal role in an organization. 

Right from planning and executing a roadmap to handling a team and ensuring successful project completion while maintaining high-quality output within a given budget and time, project managers take care of everything.

A project’s time, scope, and cost are the main constraints that managers need to balance to ensure success. The project management triangle visualizes these “triple constraints.” It highlights how changing a single variable from the equation is impossible without making tradeoffs with the other two.

Here’s how:

Let’s say a team of 20 professionals is working on website development, and the client shortens the project’s deadline. The manager can either reduce the scope or incorporate more resources to finish the task on time. If scope reduction is not an option, the manager needs to involve a change management team to provide helpful resources, thereby helping the team maintain quality and balance the three constraints.

In this post, we will break down the three points of the project management triangle, their relationship, importance, and tips to manage the triangle.

Key Elements of the Project Management Triangle

Project Management Triangle

Balancing the three constraints: time, scope, and cost or budget to maintain project quality is what makes the role of project manager extremely challenging. 

A survey revealed that:

  • Only 29% of companies complete their projects on time. 
  • 40% of organizations maintain the quality of the projects.
  • 43% of companies succeed in completing their projects successfully within budget constraints.

What’s more? 

Reports state that 37% of project managers have considered leaving their job due to performance pressure.

How can managers keep the three constraints in check?

Besides leadership and communication skills, the project managers should have a deep knowledge of each variable. This will help them monitor the variables and execute changes to maintain the correct workflow throughout the project.

Here are a few crucial things about triple constraints that project managers should consider.

#1: Time

Also referred to as “schedule,” time defines the total duration to accomplish several tasks like planning strategies, execution phase, and the entire project. A reduced budget or enlarged scope can increase the time frame to execute a project successfully.

For example, if a team of 10 people is reduced to 5 due to a tight budget, the project completion will take longer than usual. The team may need to clock in more hours, or the managers may have to extend the deadlines to procure the desired project outcomes.

Possible time challenges and their solutions –

  • Unrealistic Expectations: You should have realistic expectations from the team. Stop being over-optimistic about your team’s capabilities regardless of their skills. Assess every member’s working record to gauge their productive ability. Check their ongoing workload and create a realistic schedule according to their availability.
  • Poor Skills: The lack of a skilled team could be the reason for the project to get delayed. So, hire the right people with essential skills. Compromising on skills can result in poor performance and ROI.
  • Internal Delays: Several tasks within a project have a dependency on teammates. If a teammate is on leave, the deliverables may get delayed. Such episodes can result in the loss of valuable time and cost. So, closely monitor dependencies to avoid such incidents.
  • External Delays: If a project requires certain materials which get delayed from the supplier’s end, the project’s progress will suffer.

For instance, a parcel delivery service provider will need printed shipping boxes, labels, and other resources to provide professional packing assistance and ship the parcel. If the packaging partner fails to supply the essentials at the right time, the delivery will get delayed. So, it’s critical to keep a tab on the external processes to handle critical delivery dates and times.

  • Loss of Interest: Teammates who don’t enjoy their work or are exhausted due to workload may not be able to complete their tasks on time. So, communicate and motivate your team members. Allocate the projects as per their interests. This will help you maintain a healthy work environment. 

#2: Scope

The project scope outlines a detailed list of tasks, deliverables, goals, deadlines, acceptance criteria, and the final client’s approval of the project.

The scope constraint enables project managers to set priorities and create a roadmap comprising schedule, cost, and resources. This further helps them develop an action-driven strategy and begin the project on a positive note.

Any changes in the project scope at any given point can impact the entire plan, thereby disturbing the three constraints. The project manager may need to delay the deadline, add more costs to get the right tools and resources or remove some items from the project scope to stay within budget, or even both.

Possible scope challenges and their solutions – 

  • Unnecessary Changes: Vague requirements can derail the project strategy. So, assess the risks before implementing any changes to the project.
  • Additional Feature Requests: A client’s request to add new features in the middle of a project can lead to missed deadlines. Such a practice may also impact the project’s quality. So, convey your concerns regarding the timeframe to the client. This will be a win-win for both parties.
  • Varying Specifications: Last-minute changes to the project specifications can affect cost and time and disturb the team working on the project. Always discuss the project plan with the client before embarking on it.

#3: Cost (Budget)

Depending on the requirements, a specific budget or cost is allocated to every project. It comprises the cost of tools and equipment, office space rent, employees’ salaries, and other resources. Extending the deadline or increasing the team size impacts the project cost.

Project managers must calculate the cost for any given assignment before its inception. This can help maintain transparency between clients and the manager. As the client changes the project’s scope or deadline, the budget is bound to change.

Possible cost challenges and their solutions – 

  • Wrong Costs: Setting an unrealistic budget or misjudging the project cost can lead to incorrect budget estimates. So, include the cost of each resource while creating the estimation. 
  • Poor Accountability: A well-detailed budget may exceed if you fail to track the expenses. Keeping a tab on the budget and creating reports helps determine whether the spending is going in the right direction. So, implement effective project management software to track the budget throughout the project. 
  • Delayed Projects: Delays in projects can increase the budget as you need to accommodate team members’ salaries, other resources, and insurance (if applicable). So, ensure that the project runs as per the pre-defined time. 
  • Personnel Costs: This can happen when you need to involve new members in the middle of an ongoing project. If the project demands new resources due to a lack of skilled members, you should explain the scope and budget before they start working. 

Let’s better understand this whole concept with the help of an example. Let’s say you want to do the budget planning for web design projects, then you need to account for technology cost, skill cost, and above all, the general infrastructure and recurring cost.

How Are These Constraints Related

The following two types of relationships dominate the project triangle –

1) Scope = (Time, Cost)

The project’s scope is directly proportional to cost and time. This implies that when specifications increase, time and cost will also increase. For instance, if a client asks to add new features to a SaaS project, project managers would require more developers or extra time to deploy the required functionality.

2) Time and Cost

Time and cost are inversely proportional. 

If the client reduces the budget or cost for a project, the deadline will extend. If minimizing the timeline is not an option, the managers have to increase the budget for implementing resources and tools to finish the project. 

No project manager (including the experienced ones) or clients can alter these relationships in any circumstances. No wonder, the project management triangle is also called the “iron triangle.”

Why Project Management Triangle Matters

The project management triangle can help managers analyze projects and make accurate decisions. It serves as a helpful project management tool to scrutinize the three crucial elements responsible for determining a project’s success. 

Time + Scope + Cost = Quality

Here are a few reasons depicting the importance of the project management triangle. 

  • Mitigates Risks: A risk mitigation plan allows managers to establish solid work procedures that can help overcome challenges, thereby reducing the impact of the risks. Keeping track of the three constraints can help managers make proactive decisions at any given instant, thereby mitigating risks. 

For example, if you notice a task is slowing down due to a lack of essential tools, you may request the stakeholders to provide the resources. Maintaining transparency will help your team avoid missing the deadline. Besides, this practice will strengthen the bond between the client and your organization, thereby improving your credibility.

  • Clarifies Project Priorities: With the iron triangle, managers can visualize the three constraints and prioritize the most vital tasks. This will help them make appropriate adjustments and meet the client’s expectations.
  • Improves Resource Allocation: The triangle allows managers to understand the resources required to finish the task within the given budget and scope.
  • Boosts Team Communication: Strong communication builds camaraderie among the team, imbibes a sense of trust, and boosts morale. With detailed project insights, managers can communicate and set the right expectations to help the team achieve the goal. The better the communication, the fewer the complications. 
  • Improves Flexibility: Monitoring the three constraints allows project managers to be flexible and change their action plan to hit the goal. 

Top 4 Tips to Manage Project Management Triangle

How can businesses manage cost, time, and scope simultaneously?

There’s no specific answer to this question. 

For any project to be successful, you should have a flexible approach and adjust according to the requirements. At least one of the three constraints needs to be flexible. 

Here are a few tips that will help you maintain equilibrium.

#1: Develop a Project Plan

A project plan outlines the execution and control stages to empower the team and stakeholders working on a project. With a well-written project plan, managers can define the role of individual team members in the large scope, which is the most critical element for a project’s success.

Here are a few tips for developing a solid project plan. 

  • Determine the project objectives you want to achieve on completion of the project. Adopt the D.U.M.B. approach – (Doable, Understandable, Manageable, and Beneficial) to set clear goals.
  • Discuss the goals with the team to identify the possible challenges that may affect the execution stage. Do the risk assessment and determine the scope, budget, and time required to complete each task in the project. 
  • Discuss the objectives with clients and the team to avert serious change requests in the middle of the project. This will lay a strong foundation and help your team achieve quality deliverables without extending time or budget.
  • Assign the tasks to the team members according to their capabilities. This will ensure high productivity.
  • Define the key success metrics, such as employees’ productivity, efficiency, ROI, client satisfaction, and more, and keep track of the workflow. Afterward, sketch out your project roadmap with one of the best brushes for illustration.

#2: Build a Cross-Functional Team

A cross-functional team is a group of professionals with distinct expertise working toward a common objective. 

Developing a cross-functional team ensures that everyone delivers their peak performances as they perform according to their expertise. For instance, if a project requires digital marketing skills, the project managers can include professionals with expertise in PPC, outreach, campaign ideation, marketing, and sales.

Reports state that cross-functional teams implement innovative problem-solving approaches that can help ensure favorable outcomes. 

Here are a few tips for building a cross-functional team.

  • Identify the crucial skill sets that can help make the project a massive success. Include team members with diverse skill sets. For instance, the content writer in your team should have SEO knowledge. This can enhance the deliverable’s value. 
  • Create a clear communication policy to help cross-functional teams work closely together. Provide timely feedback, discuss the tasks and navigate changes to help your team work efficiently. 
  • Develop a team charter to outline vital specifications for team operations. The charter should include –
  • Team’s purpose
  • Objectives
  • Responsibilities

#3: Ensure Seamless Communication    

A productive and efficient team is crucial to getting the project done on time. Effective communication helps the team understand, discuss, and work toward attaining the project’s goals, thereby increasing productivity. Whereas, poor communication within teams can make a big dent in the execution and workflow, leading to failure.

streamline communication with Nifty

Implement the following tips to help strengthen the communication in your team. 

  • Have an open door policy that allows everyone in the team to voice their concerns, ask queries, and pitch ideas at any given point. This can help build trust between project managers and the team. 
  • Deploy reliable project management software like Nifty. With Nifty, you get access to features that can enhance collaboration and communication, thereby facilitating meaningful decision-making.
  • Share Files: Access and share crucial documents and files from your computer, Google Drive or Dropbox to keep the team on the same page.
  • Create Threads: Organize your project-related discussions by creating threads. This helps in creating a context for messages.
  • Communicate Seamlessly: Communicate and prepare an action-driven strategy to achieve the project objectives. 
  • Track Progress: Track your project’s progress. For instance, view the tasks completed and overdue status based on the assignments.
  • Arrange team meetings and interact with a purpose. Always create a detailed agenda and set time for the meeting to be effective and productive. 
  • Encourage everyone to share the challenges and provide possible solutions. Avoid gossip and irrelevant talk as it can waste valuable time or even spark conflict between the team.

#4: Determine Accurate Estimates 

Accurate cost and time estimates can help keep the project scope secure. 

The reason? 

In most instances, the project scope gets compromised due to wrong time and budget estimates. This can result in project failure, tarnish your brand’s image or even break crucial client relationships. 

Use the below-shared tactics to determine accurate cost and time estimates. 

A) Cost Estimates –

  • Calculate direct costs, such as money required for software, tool, and other equipment, office rent, infrastructure maintenance, salaries of team members, and more. 
  • Choose the right resources to accelerate the project’s progress without delay. 
  • Keep all stakeholders in the loop and share the project’s progress reports daily. 

B) Time Estimates –

  • Create a detailed list of tasks and define the priorities. 
  • Keep a tab on work progress to avoid missing deadlines. 
  • Consider revision time to incorporate the changes. 

Pro Tip: Count on Nifty’s project management software to organize, prioritize, and manage tasks. See real-time insights and use them to balance the workload in the team.

Time Tracking using Nifty

Observe how it helps keep a tab on time across projects. Notice how the software allows project managers to track logged hours of the teammates.

The best part?

Nifty is highly cost-effective project management software. They have a free forever account and besides that they have a basic package that starts from $39 per month, while you can avail fully scaled and unlimited version at $399 per month. Moreover, Nifty has won multiple G2 awards in 2022, including best setup, usability, support, and more. 

Opting for Nifty can prove to be a game changer for your organization. Schedule a free demo to understand its utility for your projects. 

Summing Up

Implementing a project management triangle can make your projects run smoothly. 

A clear understanding of the possible limitations can help you avoid serious setbacks, thereby boosting the chances of high ROI. Besides, implementing the right project management software can help accelerate the process and enable your team to perform efficiently. So, use the iron triangle to visualize your projects and minimize potential challenges and risks.

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