The Project Management Triple Constraint

24 November, 2014

If you are reading this it is likely that you are a practicing Project Manager. It is also possible that you are a Project Management Professional (PMP)®, who became well versed in the Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide). No doubt, no matter what your experience level, you will have heard of the project management Triple Constraint.

In essence, the Triple Constraint explains why Project Managers are needed at all. Without constraints, projects could take as long as necessary, cost as much as they like and achieve levels of perfection only dreamed of in the bleak commercial landscape of budgets ad schedules. Once you place a constraint on a project, it has consequences.

So, for instance, if your Project Sponsor declares that the product you are being tasked to produce must be ready for the Christmas market that will have consequences for your project planning. This hard deadline allows for no reduction in scope – the deliverable from your project must be ready for sale to real-live customers; customers who will demand a warranty and who will not be happy if the product disintegrates into component parts as soon as the box is opened. So we also have to insist on high quality. As any lean manufacturer will tell you, defects are an example of waste – cut cost in development and the consequences will be felt in warranty claims and corporate reputation.

So this hard deadline has backed our Project Manager into a corner. The schedule is constrained, but so too is the quality. We cannot reduce the scope because documentation and certification work have to be done. So the only breathing space we have is on the budget front. The PMP®s among you are now remembering the tools and techniques offered in the PMBOK® Guide to compress a schedule. We can “crash” the schedule by throwing resources at it. If there are lots of activities that can be done in parallel, we can benefit from more staff. As an example, if we needed to paint the inside of a house, assigning a painter to each room will have the job completed much quicker.

The other option is “fast-tracking” which is risky but can work out well. This involves starting work on certain activities before their predecessor activities are finished. There could be rework required if unexpected changes occur in the earlier activities, but gains in time can be substantial.

A different type of hard deadline is getting a product ready for a trade fair. Now we have a lot more room to manoeuvre. We do not have to have everything working, or the packaging and manufacturing aspects finalized. Once we can have a shiny box on display that gives hints at the product’s potential, all is well. Reducing the scope in this circumstance is possible and is certainly advisable as a contingency plan in case things take longer than planned.

However, despite the project management Triple Constraint being so familiar to all levels of Project Manager, the term never appears in the PMBOK® Guide – at least not in the fifth edition. Why should that be? I suspect it is because the Project Management Institute would prefer their Project Managers to consider a wider set of constraints – namely all the knowledge areas except for scope and integration. So we should really be aware of an Octuple Constraint!

In this situation, our scope is being constrained by schedule, budget and quality as before, but now we are adding Human Resources, Communications, Risk, Procurement and Stakeholders to the mix. Reflect on some the projects you have managed: did the calibre of the team make a difference? Was most of your day taken up creating formal reports explaining the project’s goals and current status? Was risk management arduous? Did contingency plans account for serious spending if they were ever triggered? How about outsourcing? Were your suppliers diligent, or were you micro-managing them every step of the way? How about your stakeholders? Were they playing high-level politics, using your project as a football? Did you struggle to get support for the project and the necessary assistance from line managers?

Looking at project management from the Project Management Institute’s perspective, you can see why the Triple Constraint does not get a mention – a professional Project Manager is aware of many more constraints than three.

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By Velopi Seamus Collins

 

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