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July 12, 2023

Navigating the triple constraints in project management

Project Management WBS & Backlog Structuring
Jerzy Żurawiecki Content Specialist @BigPicture

Managing a project means handling various limitations. On one hand, stakeholders might ask for countless requirements. On the other, a team can only do so much within the time allotted. And then there’s the budget to consider. Development, production, tools, payroll… None of that is free (and it’s not cheap, either).

Balancing these issues is the foundation of project management. It’s also the gist of a concept called the “triple constraints.”

Triple constraints in project management — what they are and why they’re important

The idea behind the triple model constraints is that cost, time, and scope are the main factors restricting every project. Of course, there are other things at play: managing risk, change, and getting the right benefits, to name a few. 

But without aligning the budget, scope, and schedule, your project is destined to fail.

Here’s a visual of the triple constraints in project management:

Time, scope, and cost – the triple constraints of project management visualized.

  • Scope: the deliverables and the work needed to deliver them
  • Time: the schedule of the project and the deadline
  • Cost: the project’s budget

But the triangle also contains the fourth element — quality. Simply put, the other three ingredients impact the project’s quality. To maintain quality when making changes to another side of the triangle, you need to adjust the other sides, too.

Each side of the triple constraint triangle affects the other two. For example, adding deliverables requires an increase in budget. That will enable managers to allocate more resources and deliver the updated scope on time.

The same thing happens in reverse. Say stakeholders decide to reduce the budget. That means you won’t have enough resources to deliver the whole scope on time.

Staying on track boils down to making decisions that keep all three areas in balance.

The importance of triple constraint in project management

First, controlling the triple constraints helps keep your project on track. Aligning the three areas increases the project’s chances of success. When the scope is doable within the time frame and budget, you’ve got your bases covered.

But the project management triangle is not the be-all and end-all of project success. There are other factors to consider. After all, a project aims to improve business results and contribute to your organization’s goals. Many factors determine project success.

The list of factors contributing to the success of a project.

Second, keeping tabs on your triple constraints can save your project while it’s in motion. Managers and stakeholders routinely evaluate the project’s progress. Delays or excessive budget spending signal the need for adjustments.

How to balance the timeline, scope, and budget

The key to controlling the triple constraints is to consider all three. Decisions regarding one aspect will have consequences in other areas. These adjustments require finesse and preparation. Follow these tips to manage the triple constraint more effectively.

Gather key information from the stakeholders

Before the project gets underway, you need answers to some important questions:

  • What are the project’s objectives?
  • What are the requirements of the project?
  • What is the budget?
  • What is the deadline?
  • What is the scope?

Getting answers from stakeholders gives your project manager a baseline to work with.

Break down the scope with the timeline and budget in mind

Once you’ve got the high-level information, you can plan the project in detail. 

This involves dividing the scope into smaller parts. Most managers use the Work Breakdown Structure to do that. Adding estimated costs to the WBS will provide a detailed account of spending.

To maintain visibility into how your project falls on the timeline, using a Gantt chart works better than looking at raw numbers. The chart even enables you to see the dependencies between tasks and phases. Take a look:

Which side shows you the duration of a task more clearly: The numbers in WBS (left) or the task bars (right)?

Set realistic deadlines

Consider the following when establishing deadlines:

  • Project schedule
  • Team members’ availability
  • Priorities of the project,
  • Potential risks in the availability of people, downtime of technology, or delays caused by dependent actions

Sometimes, the schedule doesn’t allow enough time for you to complete the entire project scope. In that case, look at your priorities. “Can we deliver the project without X?” If the answer is “yes,” change the scope.

One way of checking which elements are critical to a project’s survival (and which aren’t) is the Critical Path. The Critical Path outlines the longest sequence of dependent tasks of the project. But the Critical Path doesn’t account for priorities, so keep that in mind.

Communicate and reiterate scope frequently

Most teams know their scope well. But changes can introduce chaos into the project. Even if the scope is constant, teams don’t always keep priorities in mind. Discuss the scope and priorities regularly. 

You don’t want the team to lose sight of what’s important. Clarity in communication is especially important if you make any changes.

Monitor the project’s progress

Keeping an eye on progress enables you to spot delays, scope issues, or overspending before it’s too late. This is the stage when managers make the most adjustments.

Remember, controlling the triple constraints is give-and-take. With any changes, ask (and answer) the question: How is this going to affect the other areas? Once you know that, you can adjust those areas accordingly, too.

Handling the triple constraint with project management software

Even if you follow all the tips above, controlling constraints is still challenging. But using the right tools makes it easier. With PPM software like BigPicture, managers can control all three triple constraints — time, scope, and budget — in one place.

With the Gantt module, you can visualize both the timeline and the scope of the entire project. The configurable work breakdown structure works in tandem with the Gantt chart to provide a complete set of information. You can even see and manage dependencies without opening Jira.

Gantt module — clarity and completeness of project information

Atlassian’s tool serves up relevant data. Then BigPicture gathers the Jira data and aggregates it. As a result, you get actionable insights much faster.

Then, there are baselines and what-if scenarios. They enable you to consider alternative realities of the project and react to potential delays.

The Resources module presents aggregated availability data for all team members or multiple teams. No matter how complex your project is, you’ll get a clear picture of the workload. Best of all, the color-coded bars alert you if team members are overloaded.

Resources module in BigPicture.
Resources module — comprehensive display of availability, no matter the size of your team

Budget-wise, BigPicture enables you to add cost-related fields and track expenses. The tool integrates with Jira seamlessly, so the data can flow straight from Atlassian’s software. 

And it gets better. You have the option to compare estimated vs. actual costs. Just log the values in BigPicture. That gives you a quick overview of project spending. See at a glance  whether you’re on track. 

Last but not least, you can add the budget column to the home screen view. This provides a financial point of reference every time you open the app.

Whether you manage Classic, Agile, or Hybrid projects, BigPicture can help you visualize and aggregate data to make better decisions. Start your free trial and easily manage the triple constraints of your project.