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PM101: What is the Project Management Triangle?

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PM101: What is the Project Management Triangle?When you execute a project, do you ever feel like youre being pulled in different directions? That every decision is one of compromise? That youre always giving something up for every thing you gain?

If so, then congratulations! Youve just run into the project management triangle at work!

The project management triangle is a set of contradicting constraintsnamely time, cost, and scope where having more of one or two almost always means less of the third. The project manager has to balance out the ratios in order to achieve the projects goals in a desirable manner.

Lets take a closer look at the constraints:


This aspect of the project management triangle deals with the time available to complete a project or task. Time is often the most unforgiving of the three sides. Project managers often try to gain more time by adding resources, extending deadlines, or even changing the scope. But every single one of the solutions mentioned requires moving the burden to one of the other two sides of the triangle.


Balancing the project budget is one of a project managers most difficult tasks. Nearly every action a team takes has a price associated with it, whether its hourly billing or overhead costs. And if you ramp up your production schedule or add to your project scope, you automatically start burning more of your funds.



A project wouldnt be a project if it didnt have deliverablesdeliverables that take time to produce and cost money to make. The more deliverables you have, the more of the other two constraints youre forced to spend. You could always reduce the scope of your project to save on time and costs, but then would your project meet its objective? Thats for you and your stakeholders to decide.


This so-called fourth constraint to the project management triangle is a direct result of the way you apportion the other three constraints. As an example: a large project done quickly will usually result in low quality workunless you pour a lot of resources into it (and use them wisely).

The Project Management Triangle as a Planning Tool

The beauty of the project management triangle is that you can use it as an effective planning tool during the concept phase. This graphic aid can help you, your stakeholders, and your project team work out a good compromise between the three constraints; all before you commit resources.

Image credit, Wikipedia, Project Management Triangle

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