Triple Constraints of Projects: Quality, Cost & Schedule

The Triple Constraints of Projects: Quality, Cost and Schedule

The Triple Constraint

The challenge of every project is to make it work and be successful within the Triple Constraint; the Triple Constraint being quality (scope), cost (resources) and schedule (time). These three elements of a project are known to work in tandem with one another. Where one of these elements is restricted or extended, the other two elements will then also need to be either extended/increased in some way or restricted/reduced in some way. There is a balancing of the three elements that only when fully understood by the Project Manager, allows for the successful planning, resourcing and execution of a project. At the end of the day, these are the key elements of a successful project and these are the things that will determine whether or not you have successfully managed a project.

More on the Triple Constraint

Now, you may ask yourself, what is so important about the Triple Constraint and what does it affect in the scheme of things? Let’s look a little more closely at the three components that make up the Triple Constraint:

The scope of a project (often called the Scope of Work) is a clear, specific statement as to what has been agreed to be preformed/achieved in a particular project. In other words, the scope expressly lays out the functions, features, data, content, etc. that will be included in the project at hand. You could also say that the scope clearly expresses the desired final result of a project.

This second element of the Triple Constraint is known as either Resources or Cost. Resources always cost money so the two are interchangeable in many ways. When we talk about the cost of a project, we are talking about what needs to be applied or assigned to the project in terms of money and effort in order to make things happen. This can be resources like manpower/labor, it can be materials needed for the job, resources for risk management and assessment or any third party resources that might need to be secured.

Time, in project management, is analyzed down to its smallest detail. The amount of time required to complete each and every component of a project is analyzed. Once analysis has taken place, those components are broken down even further into the time required to do each task. Obviously from all of this we are able to estimate the duration of the project as well as what and how many/much resources need to be dedicated to that particular project.

Prioritizing the Triple Constraint

One of the first tasks a project manager of a brand new project is faced with is the prioritization of the Triple Constraint. This can only be done by communicating with the client. Whether the client understands project management or has ever heard of the Triple Constraint, in their mind, they already know what is most important to them. Your job, as project manager, is to find this out. This is usually done by asking them a series of very, well-worded questions. As you master the skill of balancing the Triple Constraint you will naturally begin to keep track of all aspects of project management and you will begin to understand what to look out for and at what stages of a project you should

Client Concerns and Priorities

Generally, when a client approaches you about a project, they are very clear about what is important to them. In some instances the priority is the bottom line. ‘I do not want to pay over x amount of dollars, make it happen’! Other times, a client has a launch date that they feel they can not miss under any circumstances. In these circumstances it is very clear that the primary way that they will judge whether a project is a success or failure will be based on whether or not you are able to meet the deadline.

Educating the Client

If your client does not have a good understanding of project management and its related issues, which is often the case, you will have the task of educating them, at least on a basic level. Clients often need to be made to realize that, if a project is to be completed at a certain level of quality, then a certain amount of time and money need also to be invested in the project. A project that has time restrictions will need to increase the resources assigned to it or have the quality or scope reduced. The well known Triple Constraint formula is Cost * Schedule = Quality.

The Right Balance

By understanding the Triple Constraint and the ramifications associated with adjusting any one of its components, you will be able to plan your projects better, analyze project risks and protect your company from the problems of unrealistic client expectations. You will also be properly equipped to balance out the triple constraint when any adjustment has been made to one or more of its elements. By mastering the Triple Constraint, in many ways you master the project itself.


19 Responses to “Triple Constraints of Projects: Quality, Cost & Schedule”

  • Nuclear Ventilation:

    Great article but could have been improved with a diagram of the cost / qualty / schedule / scope triangle. Can’t beat a picture :-)

  • anderian:

    thx for this articles.this is really helping me in my lecture presentation.

  • Srinivasa Chary:

    Excellent and practical.

  • Many would argue that quality is a fourth constraint since this is such a large factor in project success and since it is often compromised with an increase in scope or a decrease in budget or time. For those of you who are interested, my colleague is hosting a webinar on September 8th called “Mastering the Triple Constraint”. It will show PMs how to maximize budget dollars while maintaining a set scope and schedule.

  • [...] background in project management will probably recognize this immediately as a modification of the “triple constraint” model. Namely, the conceptual triangle that governs any project, sometimes referred to as the [...]

  • Lissa:

    This information was very helpful in my quest to understand triple contraints

  • Quality is the forth or resulting dimension of the triple constraint. The quality of the project is the result of the project teams ability to balance scope, schedule and budget. Nice artilcle, but the quality reference threw me off a little.

    Well written.

  • umang:

    constraints are normally limitations of the project which affects the cost, duration and quality of the project.

  • I had never really heard the phrase – triple constraints – thanks for the helpful information.

    Very well written, everyone needs to schedule their time once in awhile.

  • I believe that is one of the most significant info for me. And i am happy studying your article. However wanna statement on some basic issues, The site style is ideal, the articles is in point of fact excellent : D. Just right activity, cheers

  • [...] Triple Constraints of Projects: Quality, Cost & ScheduleThe Triple Constraints of Projects: Quality, Cost and Schedule The Triple Constraint The challenge of every project is to make it work and be successful. [...]

  • ashok nayak:

    the basic of any professional course is to make it complicate and fill with jargons so it looks mote difficult and away from common and easy understanding.

    There are many challenges/ constraints not limited to cost/ quality and schedule. man hr effort is the biggest of all constraints and so the domain knowldeg with them.

    Even if you have no cost and time limit no project leader can successfully complete a pproject unless they have expertise or excellent domain knowledge. This is the most important constraint contributing more than 80% to the success of the project.

    Most project fails due to lack of adequate knowledge so the excution fails in time. But we define this as out of schedule and cost ofcourse increases and lead to bad quality..

  • subbarao:

    i agree with you nayak good arcticle in the present construction senario man hr effort and quality motivation to the work force and execution team is one among the major constraints.

  • PMOld:

    I’m sorry, but swapping out “quality” for “scope” as if they are the same word or the same measurable result is just not a valid concept. Quality is what is maintained by managing the triple constraints properly. One can increase scope, reduce schedule or budget, and still maintain quality. Either the author of this article has a severe misunderstanding of the concepts of quality and scope, or the word has been swapped out to meet the need for an article about quality in project management.

  • john:

    Comments on ‘quality’: were directed at the project itself or the outcome of the project?

    In any case, ‘quality’ as an attribute begs measurement using a valid yardstick or industry standard if it’s to be within the scope of work. Once having the measurability, I too think it belongs with the scope.

    On the other hand, if ‘quality’ cannot be measured or operationally defined within the scope of the project, then it would seem to belong to another dimension. In my mind I see that dimension itself deserving its own set of constraints, that is, scope, cost/effort, and duration. Without such constraints I feel this ‘quality’ dimension would only lead to scope creep and a failed project.

  • Dania:

    Thanks to describe beautifully about Quality maintenance by Triple Constraints.

  • E:

    Would be helpful if there were practical examples i.e. if client wants more functionality, what happens to triple constraint.

  • That was a really helpful post. Thanks!

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