Triple constraint: Balancing time, cost, and project quality

Triple constraint is a term often heard in project management. But how does it translate into achieved or missed project and organizational objectives? Here are six questions project managers need to ask themselves.

If 88 percent of C-suite executives agree that project alignment with strategy is vital to organizational success, why are only 56 percent of projects meeting strategic objectives? Furthermore, in a report titled “The High Cost of Low Performance,” the Project Management Institute (PMI) states that 61 percent of firms acknowledge they often struggle to bridge the gap between strategy and day-to-day implementation.

How much of this is attributable to issues with monitoring and managing cost, quality, and time throughout projects, and what can be done address these issues?

Triple constraint—the balancing act that occurs between cost, quality, and time—is often heard of in the world of project management, but what does that mean when it comes to the success or failure of a project to meet organizational objectives? Project managers are tasked with ensuring that they successfully manage the scope of a project to keep it within the cost, quality, and time parameters determined by organizations at the onset.

How do project managers balance these three factors?

This can be an ominous task, considering that there are various internal or external factors that can rapidly change and cause any one or more of the three constraints to shift in an undesirable way. In order to decrease this risk, there are some questions you need to address in the beginning stages. Here are six important ones that could have a significant impact on project scope.

Is the project’s purpose in alignment with the organization’s goals?

Think about that statistic at the beginning of this section for a minute: only 56 percent of projects meet strategic objectives? As I mentioned previously, PMOs that ensure alignment with strategic objectives are almost twice as likely to become high-performing teams capable of implementing successful strategies and creating significant value.”

Projects need to support overall business goals in order to warrant the expenditure, resource utilization, and time commitment. Executing projects that don’t maintain strategic alignment is simply wasted time, cost, and resources. Projects need to serve a specific vision and advance the business through continuous improvements or transformational activities. C-suites will need to determine if there’s strategic alignment at the onset in order to avoid scope creep after a project has commenced. Without knowing the answer to this up front, a project’s scope can take on a life of its own after the fact in an effort to realign with organizational goals.

Is the project scope realistic?

Seeking a full and clear understanding of how the project fits into the organizational strategic direction is key to determining if the project scope is realistic. In order to successfully execute a project—on time, on budget, and within specified quality standards—EMPOs need to have an ongoing dialogue with executives from the start to ensure that project deliverables and outcomes are attainable given the time, resources, and commitment anticipated. If projects are planned poorly from the start, they become a fool’s errand to execute, and this just sets the project on course for disaster.

Are the required stakeholders fully involved?

It’s essential to determine who in the organization should be involved and why they’ve been chosen for specific roles within a project. Gain an understanding of their roles, required contributions, and levels of involvement. Project managers need to ensure that full support for the project is received from C-suites, team members, and other stakeholders from the initiation to closeout. They should keep in constant contact, quickly identify and clearly communicate changes, provide direction, and outline responsibilities with all stakeholders. Without this, a significant amount of time can be spent trying to regain buy-in, causing a project to run into overtime and over budget while trying to resolve issues with communication errors, personality conflicts, or conflicting priorities.

Are project details, deliverables, and objectives clearly defined?

Clear understanding and communication of objectives and detailed requirements have a trickle-down effect, so loss during translation can be an issue that can adversely affect time, cost, or quality. Do the project team members and stakeholders understand what’s required of them and why? Much confusion, rework, misunderstandings, unmet deliverables, or missed deadlines can be avoided if project objectives are clearly defined and communicated to all stakeholders.

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