triple contraints in project managment

Today, our topic is triple constraints in project management.

We know that projects are temporary; they have to be completed within a fixed duration, with limited resources. 

Managing a project is not easy, and project managers have to fight for resources in their organization. They face many constraints on their daily activities.

Constraints are limitations, they are like impediments or hurdles, which the project manager has to overcome.

Although project managers face many constraints, the most important ones are triple constraints. 

Triple Constraints

triple constraints

The triple constraints in project management are:

  1. Scope
  2. Time
  3. Cost

Sometimes these triple constraints are known as the project management triangle, where each area of the triangle represents each constraint: scope, time, and cost.

Like these three constraints, you may have heard hexagonal constraints. The hexagonal constraints have six project constraints: Scope, Time, Cost, Quality, Risk, and Resources. 

However, the triple constraints have the biggest influence on the project and therefore are referred to as the primary project constraints.

The project manager must manage these constraints, and in doing so they may have to trade-off one constraint for another within an acceptable tolerance. 

For example, if you are conducting unplanned training, you must speed up a few activities to accommodate the schedule.

Poorly managed projects may cause missed deadlines, cost overruns, poor quality, change requests, rework, and unsatisfied stakeholders. Therefore, in traditional project management, the project managers work with their team to influence the project constraints, in order to meet the project success criteria. 

#1. Project Time Constraint

Projects are temporary and all projects have deadlines. You must complete the project within the approved duration; hence, time is a constraint.

In today’s fast-changing environment, on-time delivery matters greatly, and any delay may affect your project negatively.

However, most projects do not meet their deadline.

According to a paper by Health Management Technology titled “Storm Warning: Danger Signs During Software Implementation,” “only 16.1% of all Management Information System (MIS) projects are completed on time and within budget.”

The problem is not specific to traditional project managers, other project methodologies have the same problem; however, in Agile, they time-box every sprint to ensure it does not become a forever event.

Time management is equally important in meetings; hence, the agenda is bracketed with time. The Daily Scrum in agile is fixed for 15 minutes, and an average sprint is scheduled for two weeks. All these acts show time management in projects. 

Extreme Programming even makes allowance for a slack, just in case of any unprecedented hurdles.

Traditional project schedule management hinges on processes such as:

  • Plan Schedule Management: What are the policies to guide us? What are the organization’s practices? What are the standards we are bound to follow?
  • Define Activities: Every activity to accomplish the project goal must be defined clearly.
  • Sequence Activities: To interlink these activities, we need to sequence them in order of occurrence.
  • Estimate Activity Duration: At this stage, we need to allocate duration estimates for each activity.
  • Develop Schedule: Here the critical path is evaluated using a network diagram and the schedule is developed.
  • Control Schedule: Here you monitor the baseline and influence the changes affecting your schedule.                                  

The project schedule is set during project planning in traditional project management.

There are many scheduling techniques; for example, critical path method, Gantt chart, PERT, etc.

The critical path is the longest in the project, and any delay on critical activities will affect the project schedule.

To reduce the project duration, you can fast track or crash activities on the critical path, otherwise, it might not provide you with the desired result. 

PERT is similar to the critical path method and is used for research projects. Here activities have only a finish-to-start relationship.

A Gantt chart is a very useful tool in traditional project management such as construction projects.

As the Gant chart is visible to all team members, they will feel shared responsibilities to complete the project on time.

In Agile, as earlier mentioned, a time-box or cadence is used to regulate the timely delivery of a sprint. 

Disciplined Agile Delivery promotes early delivery by limiting a team’s work to its capacity. You don’t overload your team with work, you assign work to the team that they can handle. A large chunk of work is broken down into shippable solutions. These practices give the team a sense of accomplishment and motivation as they meet deadlines. 

Additionally, the team must be properly formed, for example, self-organizing and cross-functional, to guarantee capability.

#2. Project Scope Constraint

The scope is the heart of the project. 

The scope can be product scope or project scope. 

The product scope is the features of the product, and the project scope is the work needed to finish the project.

In scope management, the customer is at the center stage. Customer satisfaction is the ultimate objective for projects, and the project team must understand the importance of stakeholder management. 

While traditional project management gets customer requirements before starting the planning, the adaptive approach takes customer input regularly until the project completes. Both approaches deal with customer satisfaction but in different ways.

In a predictive approach, the scope of work is well defined.  The process of scope change is rigorous and passes through the Integrated Change Management process. 

In the end, the customer validates the agreed scope and signs off to complete the project. 

In adaptive, however, you get customer’s requirements as user stories, prioritize them on a Product backlog and deliver the scope. 

As customers make new demands, you add them to the backlog, prioritize, and develop accordingly. You communicate the customer’s requirements to the team to accommodate changing demands. You are open to collaborating with customers throughout the life of the project. Periodically, you organize a demo to showcase delivery and get feedback from the customers.

Traditional project management is ideal for projects with well-defined scope and the client is not intended to change it. 

While in the latter case, the scope keeps evolving from the customer as the project progresses.

#3. Project Cost Constraint

Cost is another critical project constraint as it secures resources to complete the project. Knowing the important role of money in a project and the fact that the funding is limited, project managers must manage the budget efficiently.

In Agile, as well as in traditional project management, the budget is fixed. Any budget overruns can affect your project negatively.

In Agile, we manage cost by reducing the feedback cycle so that errors and technical debt do not degenerate. Disciplined Agile recommends a stable team, thus reducing costs associated with Tuckman’s Team development ladder.

For predictive projects, the ability to influence cost is highest at the project’s earliest stage, hence we must ensure that the scope is well defined before the project starts. As the project progresses, it becomes more costly to adjust the scope.

Some tools used during cost management are:

  • Alternative Analysis: It is a technique for evaluating and selecting options to use during project execution. For example, should I buy a tool or lease?
  • Earned Value Management: Earned Value Managment combines scope, time, and resources to measure project performance.
  • Cost of Quality: This is the total cost that includes prevention, appraisal, and failure costs. It is advisable to spend on prevention and appraisal to minimize failure costs.
  • Reserve Analysis: We have two cost reserves –  contingency and management reserve. The former is used to manage identified risks, while the management reserve is for unidentified risks. 

Analysis of these reserves gives you an idea of how you are progressing. 


The project manager has to work with scarce resources and limited time to achieve scope requirements. The triple constraints are used to evaluate the success of your project. If any of these constraints are not satisfied, your project is not successfully completed. Therefore, keep a close watch on these project constraints and influence the factor affecting them. 

How is your project affected by these triple constraints? Please share it through the comments section.