PM101: What is the Project Management Triangle?
When you execute a project, do you ever feel like you’re being pulled in different directions? That every decision is one of compromise? That you’re always giving something up for every thing you gain?
If so, then congratulations! You’ve just run into the project management triangle at work!
The project management triangle is a set of contradicting constraints—namely time, cost, and scope—where having more of one or two almost always means less of the third. The project manager has to balance out the ratios in order to achieve the project’s goals in a desirable manner.
Let’s take a closer look at the constraints:
This aspect of the project management triangle deals with the time available to complete a project or task. Time is often the most unforgiving of the three sides. Project managers often try to gain more time by adding resources, extending deadlines, or even changing the scope. But every single one of the solutions mentioned requires moving the burden to one of the other two sides of the triangle.
Balancing the project budget is one of a project manager’s most difficult tasks. Nearly every action a team takes has a price associated with it, whether it’s hourly billing or overhead costs. And if you ramp up your production schedule or add to your project scope, you automatically start burning more of your funds.
A project wouldn’t be a project if it didn’t have deliverables—deliverables that take time to produce and cost money to make. The more deliverables you have, the more of the other two constraints you’re forced to spend. You could always reduce the scope of your project to save on time and costs, but then would your project meet it’s objective? That’s for you and your stakeholders to decide.
This so-called “fourth constraint” to the project management triangle is a direct result of the way you apportion the other three constraints. As an example: a large project done quickly will usually result in low quality work—unless you pour a lot of resources into it (and use them wisely).
The Project Management Triangle as a Planning Tool
The beauty of the project management triangle is that you can use it as an effective planning tool during the concept phase. This graphic aid can help you, your stakeholders, and your project team work out a good compromise between the three constraints; all before you commit resources.
Image credit, Wikipedia, Project Management Triangle
Patrick Icasas is a former marketing project manager with 7 years of marketing and PR agency experience, managing creative projects for brands such as Nokia, Verizon Wireless, and Adobe. He now spends his time helping people make the most out of their project management software and entertaining his 5 year old daughter.