PM4DEV Blog

Ideas, suggestions and general thoughts about project management for development.

Project Management Constraints

Every project has to manage four basic constraints; scope, schedule, budget and quality. The success of a project depends on the skills and knowledge of a project manager to take into consideration these constraints and develop the plans and processes to keep them in balance. It is not enough for a project to meet the budget targets or to show to the donor that all activities have been completed on time. Development projects need to balance all four constraints if they want to realize the full benefits of a project.

Classical project management usually considers three constrains on a project: scope, time and costs (known as the project triangle), we believe that it is important to place under this category the constraint of quality. For development projects it is not enough to deliver a project according to the scope, on time and under budget; but the project must meet the needs and expectation of the beneficiaries who are the ultimate judges of the project quality.

Managing these constrains requires careful analysis and an agreement on the priorities for the organizations, the donor and the final beneficiaries. Depending on those factors a project may place more importance to the budget and quality than to the schedule or scope; these types of decisions, early in the project, have a fundamental impact on all the project plans that will need to be designed to ensure that the project is able to manage the four constraints. Failure to do that may result in the use of resources on areas that do not contribute to the ultimate success of the project.

The definition of project management implies that projects have specific limits in scope, schedule, budget and quality.  Understanding the combination of elements will allow make better choices when the project needs to make tradeoffs. The use of a triangle helps understand these relationships, adjusting any one of these sides, the other two are affected. For example, a change in the project plan to shorten the schedule might result in an increase in costs or require a decrease in scope.

 

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What is the Project Triangle?

Development projects need to be planned, managed, and delivered under certain constraints. In project management, these constraints are scope, time, and cost. These are also referred to as the Project Triangle, where each side of the triangle represents a constraint; wherein any changes to any of the sides causes a change in the other sides.
 
For example, a change or adjustment to reduce the time will change the scope and the cost. A further refinement of the constraints places quality at the center of the triangle and that turns it into a fourth constraint.
 
The triangle illustrates the relationship between four primary forces in a project. Scope refers to what must be done to produce the project's end result. The time is the planned schedule to deliver the project. The cost represents the planned budget or resources available. Quality represents the fit-to-purpose that the project must achieve to be a success.
 
These constraints are competing constraints: an increase in scope can result in an increase in the time and an increase in the cost, a reduction in the time constraint can only occur with a decrease in costs and reduced scope, and a reduction in the cost means a reduced scope and time.
 
The job of a Project Manager is to guide a project towards the desired goal of respecting those constraints. The difficulty lies in the fact that this is always a tradeoff. If more has to be created, then the project needs more time or more money. Project Management is a profession of tradeoffs and decisions. Understanding the project triangle allows for better choices, especially when the projects need to make tradeoffs; If the project adjusts any one side of the triangle, the other sides are affected.
 
For example, to adjust the project plan to:
  • To move the scheduled to finish to an early date you need to reduce the scope and cost.
  • Reduction of the project budget results in less time and a decreased scope.
  • Increase scope can result in an increase of the time and cost.
 
Changes to the plan can affect the triangle in various ways, depending on your specific circumstances and the nature of the project. For example, in some instances, shortening the schedule might increase costs. In other instances, it might actually decrease costs.
 
Quality is at the center of the project triangle. Quality affects every side of the triangle, and any changes made to any side of the triangle will affect quality. Quality is not a factor of the triangle; it is a result of what happens from the proper management of time, cost, and scope.
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