The Triple Constraint

I leave you today with one of the core concepts in Project Management. The triple constraint of Scope, Time and Cost. They are at the core of the discipline and anyone interested in achieving success in a project should stay tuned with the basics of their relationship. 


You can’t have everything you want all the time. This is as true in Project Management as it is in life itself. The more you deny it, the more you are likely to suffer it. It is perfectly fine to try to get as much as you can with whatever you have. But it is also wise to assess when you can’t push it any further to avoid jeopardizing the  goals of the project you pursue. 

That’s what the triple constraint reminds us. 

There is the scope - the product, result, or service that you want to achieve. Everything that you want to get done; and not less important, what you don’t want to get done. 

There is the time - how much time do you have to get the product, result, or service that you want. 

There is the cost - how much it is going to cost you get the product, result, or service that you want by the time that you want it. 

These three are constrained with one another. The more you want to get done is almost certainly to increase your cost and likely to demand more time. The less time you have to get the things done is likely to increase your cost for it or would demand to decrease eventually what you want done. An increase in your costs for whatever reason is likely to force you to reduce what you want done or the time to do it or both. 

That’s just how they work. Your role as a leader is to be aware of that inherent relationship, to monitor and properly document how a change in one of them impacts the others, to stay grounded to the earth about them and to use your skills and those of your Project Team to get done as much as you can, for the best possible cost and in as less time as suitable. 

That’s easier said than done. 

In fact you may choose to look the other way instead of doing it. However reality is going to come back at you the hard way. You may end up working for free. You may fall short on your commitments with your customer. Your customer may end up paying more than expected or getting less than expected. Your project would be at risk and eventually your reputation would suffer.  

All the frameworks and the theory in Project Management are developed to help those involved in the discipline to manage these three things as effectively as possible. 

The following questions may come handy when you are dealing with these three:

- When is the final deadline for the project?

- Have you broken the product, service or result pursued down to its more basic packages?

- Have all the involved costs being calculated? Could there be any hidden costs so far?

- Are we going to work holidays, weekends, extra hours? How would that affect cost?

- What does the contract say about scope, time and costs?

- Are there any penalties for being late, for leaving a feature behind, for additional fees?

- Is any of the elements more tightly restricted than the others? 

- How this change in one of them would impact the other two?

There are other factors pretty closely related: quality, resources and risk. This is why some people say that the triple constraint is not really triple. We shall come with these ones at a later time. 

Have a nice week! 

- Sergio Calvo

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