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Recently, a reader requested that I write about the triple constraint. I’m not exactly sure what the reader was looking for, specifically, as I have written about this before. But the comment did get me to think on the subject. From a traditional standpoint, some think of the triple constraint as the need to balance cost, schedule, and scope. It is frequently depicted as the project management triangle. Some think of costs as nearly synonymous with resources, schedule with time, and scope with quality. I think the project management triangle requires a bit more attention.

In this blog, and the next, I will explore these ideas. First, by looking at the basics of the project management triangle, and then, in the next blog, expanding that triangle to include other constraints and concerns that may be more important on your project.

6 Concepts to Help Untangle the Project Management Triangle #projectmanagement #teamwork #smartprojex Share on X

Let’s take as an example, a project to add a new master bedroom suite to your house. From a traditional perspective, you, and your contractor (if you have one) must find a balance between what you can afford to spend, what you want to have, and when you must have it. Hence, the project management triangle.



1. Begin with your why

Anyone who has ever started a project of any kind understands that when you start, you are in a land of unknowns. You may think you want double vanities or a jacuzzi tub, or both a bedroom and a sitting room. But you don’t really know what you can realistically have, and you likely haven’t evaluated your priorities. I recommend that you start with why you are doing this.

Do you need wheelchair capabilities? Do you want a bedroom that is farther away from your growing brood of teenagers? Are you just stepping on each other’s toes these days?

2. Identify your “must haves”

Everyone is different. For some people, the “must haves” will include a cost ceiling. For some people, a final completion date will be etched in stone. Others may identify that they must be able to live through the construction. And I haven’t even touched on whether that jacuzzi or sitting room is a must have. Be honest with yourself and figure out what you must have when this project wraps up.

In thinking about your “must haves,” another way to frame the question is to look at what will make the project a success, or a failure. And how will you measure success?

To identify your “must haves,” another way to frame the question is to look at what will make the project a success, or a failure. And how will you measure success? #success #projectmanagement #smartprojex Share on X

3. The Project Management Triangle: Start with your biggest priority

Some people will need to begin this project by deciding on a budget, or a final completion date, or a rough outline of your scope. Everyone is different. No two people, or companies, will approach a project in quite the same way. There is no magic formula or software that will take the pain and the joy out of wading through the process of deciding how you will get this done.

As you begin to tackle scope, it will be tempting to think about all the possible and needed improvements to your house that might make sense, especially if you are working with a contractor. After all, a good one can be hard to hire. Only you can decide. But as you explore that option, and the many other decisions that you will have to make on your master bedroom suite, you will have begun the dance between balancing costs, schedule, and scope.

There is no right or wrong decision. It’s what works for you. If this is a business project, it’s what works for your client, project team, and company leadership.

4. Project charters offer valuable insights

Remember that documentation is your friend, even on the simplest of personal projects.  Writing down your budget, or the completion date, or your scope is the first step. And in the business world, where projects can get complicated, project leaders rely on a project charter. Asking the questions in the charter document, even if you are simply asking yourself the question, can be a valuable exercise. And the more complicated your project and the more people who are involved, the more important a formal project charter becomes. Perhaps my post on nine project charter essentials will help you.

You may want to think of the project charter as a selling document, even if you are just trying to sell yourself on the decision to build a new master bedroom suite. In the corporate world, it is frequently used for that purpose. In fact, until the project charter is approved, there is no official project.

5. Create a solid work breakdown structure

I’ve written a four-step guide on creating a work breakdown structure. You may think it’s overkill if you are tackling a personal project, or even a smaller project at your company. But there are big advantages to seeing your project laid out graphically.

Consider the project for your master bedroom. You need a way to visualize all the essential activities – what they will cost, who will be responsible for getting them done, and where your critical deadlines are.

Contractors may provide you with a very detailed Gantt chart. I find that it’s easy to get lost in the details and miss the big picture. Ask them for a one-page summary – and focus, at a minimum, on making sure every essential activity is identified, the critical deadlines are documented, the person responsible for each of those activities is known, and the cost is in writing.

6. Use time blocking and priorities to focus yourself or your team.

At this point, you have planned the project and are ready to move forward. In the case of your bedroom suite addition, that means you have created solid drawings and outlined the specifications. Costs are understood and a general timeline is in place with all the players. You’ve decided what is sacrosanct – whether it’s costs, schedule, or scope. It’s now time to get this project done.

The key is focus. I recommend that you look at your schedule in time blocks and pick that which you plan to focus on in the next time block, or sprint. I’ve seen teams use two-week sprints quite successfully. Or four-week sprints when things are moving slowly. And then, I’ve seen teams use day long sprints to focus on some activity very intently. The object is to intentionally focus your efforts on a small amount of work and finish it.

The key is focus. I recommend that you look at your schedule in time blocks and pick that which you plan to focus on in the next time block, or sprint. #timemanagement #projectmanagement #leadership #team #smartprojex Share on X


In this blog, I’ve looked at a simple project that can still have many of the complexities of a business project in a medium or large organization. There is no question that the project management triangle is an important concept, whether we are discussing large or small projects. It is sometimes referred to as the iron triangle because traditional thinking says that if you change one component (scope, cost, or schedule) something else must change.

But as I’ve pondered this idea, in the context of a rapidly changing world, I believe we need to expand our thinking.

In his book, Agile Project Management: Creating Innovative Products, Jim Highsmith, one of the developers of the Agile Manifesto, offers an alternative to the traditional project management triangle that is more aligned with Agile thinking. He posits that delivering value and quality to the customer is the main goal and we do that by balancing scope, costs, and schedule.

Keep in mind that Highsmith is operating in the software development world, so the focus is on frequently releasing working software that meets the needs of the customer. I would argue that we can learn from that approach and apply it to other types of projects. It’s about regularly and rapidly delivering value to the client, communicating with clients about what works and what doesn’t, and identifying the quality requirements early and often. In my next blog, I elaborate on this and discuss several other concepts that can help projects succeed.

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