Project Management: The Triangle

Keeping projects in balance.

Though simple, this little diagram represents what occurs during all projects and its concepts are crucial to remembering when managing project work.

Three aspects of all projects

The Budget

The irony of the budget is that many projects treat it as an island which allows the other two sides: Time and Scope, to constantly threaten its outcome.
Though the financial resources are the lifeblood of any project (everything requires money), it’s essential to remember just as the human body needs blood to function, it wouldn’t be very useful without skin and bones – the project structure (Time and Scope).


Scope is by far the next most abused “side” of projects – understanding the scope isn’t meant to continue through the life of the project, but has its primary definition achieved at the outset with refinements or adjustments made on an as-needed basis.
You will never pit crew attempting to change the tire on their high-performance race car while it’s moving.
However, many project team members define an initial scope for project work, then expend almost as much energy changing it during the project as that spent on deliverables.


The next constraint which unfortunately is often treated as the only constraint – Time, has become the “stepchild” of many failed projects.
Time, or lack thereof, is unfairly blamed in place of irrational decision making and blatant disregard for basic project management principles.
For example, many project management practitioner’s chief complaint about failures within projects was the lack of attention given to adequately defining scope at the outset of
the project or its ongoing enforcement.
Obviously, when resources whether in people or capital are expended to hit a moving target, laying the blame of such failures on the management of time is akin to sticking one’s
head in the sand while waves are crashing all around you – the problem is being ignore while getting worse.
The reality of projects is that time is both as resource and constraint. The way you treat it directly corresponds to how it will treat you.


Ensure the project contains a mechanism for defining quality – how to know stakeholder expectations are met regarding the project outcome.

All Three Sides in Harmony

Having defined the three sides of the “Project Management Triangle,” how they are interrelated.
As you have seen, the triangle represents three connected aspects of a project, each having a unique effect on the center – the quality of the project.

Decreased Budget


It isn’t often a project’s budget will be decreased, at least during the initial stages, but how should this be handled?
As you can see there are two responsible choices – either compensate by increasing the Time “side” or Scope or a combination of both. In other words, with less funds you either need more time to accomplish the same scope of work, you need to accomplish less work with the same amount of time, or you accomplish less work with less time.
Also, notice that when either side is decreased (less time or work), quality is threatened.

Decreased time


The most common scenario in projects, particularly when resources are tasked simultaneously to multiple projects, is when over commitment forces an increased in budget – to allocate more resources to accomplish more work in less time, simply accomplish less by decreasing scope, but since that has already been agreed upon by stakeholders, that is very unlikely, or a combination of both strategies. As with the first challenge described above, this too might sacrifice the over quality of the project deliverables.

“Scope Creep”


The first thing you probably noticed is this scenario didn’t decrease the affected side – Scope, but actually lengthened it.
However, a decrease did in fact occur (or should) because attempting to accomplish more deliverables will force a decision to either increase resources from the budget and/or
increase time allocated.
Therefore, when the agreed upon deliverables are modified to cause more work – mostly from the stakeholders, the defined Scope “creeps” along like a moving target.
In my opinion, scope creep is the primary instigator of high turnover within technical teams due the sacrifice it demands in quality of life.

Ironically, the greatest challenge to managing projects using the three-sided approach hasn’t been understanding the interrelatedness of the three sides, or even figuring how which adjustments need to occur, but finding the will to do so and overcoming the politics of those decisions.

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