Triple Constraint is a phrase used in project management to indicate that most projects have three inter-related boundary constraints: scope or results boundary, schedule or time boundary, and resource or budget and staff boundary.
When to use
The Triple Constraint boundaries should be identified at the beginning of the project. These constraints are then used to guide planning and risk management decisions. They are also used to direct the communication with stakeholders since the stakeholders typically set the triple constraint boundaries.
When a project encounters a problem, the triple constraint boundaries are often impacted. A problem in one constraint can cascade into another constraint. For instance, a delay on a task (schedule boundary) may lead to overtime payments (resource boundary).
- Meet with the stakeholders to determine the project goals on scope (results), schedule, (time period) and resources (money and people).
- Determine which of these goals are fixed boundaries and which are more aspirational in nature. For instance is the goal of “complete by year end” due to a compliance requirement by a regulatory agency, or is it desired to reach personal objectives.
- Create a project plan and risk analysis based upon the triple constraints. If you cannot create a realistic project plan that is consistent with the triple constraints, go back to your stakeholders and request modifications to the constraints (more time, more money, different results) before starting the project.
- When a project replanning effort is needed, refer to the triple constraints to determine viable options for the replan.
Hints & tips
- Let the stakeholders set the constraints, not the project team, so that the constraints are tied to clear business objectives.
- When problems arise on the project, consider which side of the triple constraint triangle is most impacted. Attempt to resolve the problem by relaxing a less critical or less impacted side of the constraint triangle.
- Some organizations set both “stretch goal” constraints and “commit goal” constraints. The project plan is created to accommodate the “stretch goals” and if problems arise, the project team can relax requirements as far as the “commit goals.”
- Project Definition: "A project is a temporary endeavor undertaken to create a unique product, service, or result." PMBOK® Guide
This definition is taken from the Glossary of the Project Management Institute, A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge, (PMBOK® Guide) – Sixth Edition, Project Management Institute, Inc., 2017.
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