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Triple Constraint Theory in Project Management

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Triple Constraint Theory might sound like something complex, but in actuality, it is very simple. If you have ever run a project of any type, you might already be familiar with the triple constraint theory. Let us decode the process and the importance of this theory.

What is Triple Constraint in Project Management?

‘The Triple Constraint says that cost is a function of scope and time or that cost, time and scope are related so that if one changes, then another must also change in a defined and predictable way.’ – PMI Learning Library 

What this means is that you are always referring to the 3 constraints of the project you are responsible for – Scope, Budget or Cost, and Time. Any change in one factor will have a direct impact on the other two. 

Let us consider an example. If there are sudden changes in the project and your client wants the deliverables faster, it will have a direct impact on the processes. You will have to scale up, maybe charge more and meet the revised deadlines. In simpler terms, triple constraint theory is all about trade-offs.  

As a project manager, it is your job to create a balance between these three constraints and ensure everyone’s expectations are met to create a successful project. Triple Constraint in Project Management

What is the Importance of the Triple Constraint? Triple Constraint Explained

Triple constraint is also called the ‘Project Management Triangle‘, since every project is comprised of these three components. Scope, cost and time represent the three legs of the triangle, and together, they determine the quality of the finished deliverables.  

The key benefit of considering the Triple Constraint Theory during project execution is that the team will be mindful of the boundaries within which they are required to operate. Even when conditions or requirements change, as they inevitably will, the team will work to adapt to these changes and roll out the most optimal results that are possible within the given conditions. This means that they are ready to face any kind of obstacle that may get in the way, without hindering performance.  

Let us now delve into the details of the Triple Constraints. While the overview looks easy, there is a lot of information to consider when you unravel the details. Let’s dig in!

The scope of a project defines the requirements right from the beginning till the end. The scope is basically what you agree upon with the client before beginning to work on the project. If there are changes to the scope along the process, it will invariably affect the cost and timelines of the project. In order to maintain the best quality with the quickest turnaround, it is recommended that the scope remains the same throughout the project. 

The scope of a project is generally culled out in a document while the project is in the planning stage. This will give project managers a chance to lay down all the requirements and the goals of the project. Following this process ensures everyone involved in this project is aware of their expectations and has a clear idea of how to execute them. It also helps avoid scope creep, which happens when requirements change over time. 

Scope creep is the process of adding extra features or other tasks to the project that weren’t originally agreed upon – and can become detrimental to all the aspects of the project. If you allow it, scope creep can sneak up on you quickly. Before you realize it, “one little addition” can completely transform a project into an entirely different requirement. 

Hence, it is extremely important for project managers to take the initiative and define the project features, freezing them in a document that outlines the goals and requirements, before kicking off the work. This way, there is a clear understanding between the team and the client, and the expectations on both sides can be managed easily.

The second factor that contributes to successful project completion is the timeline. Depending on the requirement, you need to consider how long the project would take to complete according to the client’s expectations. While considering timelines or laying down the schedules for the project, you need to consider all the requirements from the client (scope of the project), brainstorm with the responsible POCs involved in the project, and come to a conclusion as to how long it would take.  

While calculating the timelines, you should keep in mind that it could, in fact, be more expensive to rush through a project and get it done quickly, than have a longer project with a longer timeline. When quality suffers due to skimping on time, client expectations may not be met, and rework might be called for—which would lead to overruns on the time schedules.  

Similar possible scenarios need to be considered while evaluating the project. Note that it is important to consider the other aspects of the project and it’s not just about the amount of time the project itself takes. Factors like research and meetings with the clients and stakeholders are time-consuming activities in themselves. Hence, considering time beyond task hours is crucial. The more accurately and realistically you measure the time along with your team, the better as these timelines determine the course of the project. 

Effective time management is extremely important to have a seamless project development process. Here are a few steps to help you:  

  1. Create an overview of the project 
  2. List down all the different activities involved 
  3. Define all activities along with the priorities  
  4. Define the estimated time required for each activity 
  5. Develop a detailed schedule based on the projects and their timelines 
  6. Manage and update the schedule as necessary to make it a smooth-flowing project 
  7. Keep track of the updates and progress

The estimated timelines and resources will form a base for you to calculate your project cost. The cost is basically the budget you will present to your client, writing down your charges for the project to be completed. The costing for a project needs to accurately show the process and the personnel involved to make the project a success. It should cover the number of hours it will take for you to complete as well as the additional hours required for meetings and research. Along with that, your budget should include the time required for each team member to complete their task, the cost of the materials and equipment needed.  

‍‍Maintaining honesty and openness with the client is important when it comes to budget planning. Make sure the client is aware of everything they are being charged for. It is also crucial to be transparent about the tasks and processes that may not have been included in the budget. This section will include all the additional materials that are required or if there’s a possibility of changes in the scope and costs.  

Keep in mind that when it comes to costs, it is important to communicate early and often. No one likes to be surprised by large bills. 

Here are some ways to effectively calculate the cost of your next project:  

  • Use data from similar projects from the past to estimate the costs. 
  • Determine the cost of your resources 
  • Use multiple parameters and analyze by measuring old and new data available from previous and on-going projects. 
  • Work backwards and estimate the cost by tracking the lowest to the highest budget spent on previous projects. 
  • Speak to your vendors and calculate their costs 
  • Include quality analysis costs 
  • Keep room for your profits. After all, hard work shouldn’t go unrewarded. 

How To Use Triple Constraint? How You Can Manage Better with a Better Understanding of Triple Constraint

Triple constraint theory sounds easy and interesting in theory, but how would you put this into practice? Let us look at some simple ways to incorporate this understanding into your teams to take this theory into actual practice!   

Triple Constraint Theory

Let Your Team Know About The Scope 

Always make sure that everyone involved in your project is aware of all the steps and requirements. Not communicating trivial details to the team can lead to assumptions; in turn leading to errors and failed deliverables or scope creep. 

 Set Appropriate Deadlines 

Whether the project is short term or long term, setting small goals and deadlines will help your team function smoothly and give them a sense of satisfaction as they cross off each of their goals. Monitor these deadlines and goals in order to keep track of progress and calculate the planned time vs actual time taken to finish the task. This will not only provide clarity of the progress, but also help with accountability. 

 Keep An Eye On Your Costs 

As every project manager knows, it’s all too easy to let the budget spill over. Always keep an eye on how time is being spent while working on a project as time translates to money in any project. If the actual time is increasing compared to the planned time, it could cost you some big bucks.  

Monitoring these costs and timelines can help to stem budget overflows before they become an irreversible problem. 


The Triple Constraint is a simple framework that will help project managers avoid risks, errors and poor decisions and help the team reach their goals skillfully.  

To be an efficient project manager, you must be a pro at balancing your timelines, costs, scope, your client’s expectations as well as your team’s happiness. 

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