The Project Management Triangle: How Cost, Quality, and Time Interact

The Project Management Triangle: How Cost, Quality, and Time Interact

Even if you’ve never been a project manager, you’ve almost certainly heard the old joke: Cheap, Fast, or Good, you can only pick two. 

While I’m sure that’s meant to be a joke, any project manager will tell you that those words carry a core truth about managing projects and work flows. No matter what kind of project you’re working with, there’s an inherent relationship between quality, time, and cost. In formal Project Management parlance, these three items are called the Triple Constraints, and they effect every single project.

Constraint #1 is Quality.

This one’s pretty obvious to most folks–quality refers to how good the end product is. If you’re buying a house, you can judge the quality by the components and how they exist in the final product. Two houses could have the exact same floor plan, number of square feet, and number of bedrooms, but the quality is measured by the components. Granite countertops instead of linoleum is a prime example. Even though both projects have the same elements in them, the quality is different between the two. The projects we handle here at True Productions are the same. All projects are going to get the job done, but depending on time and cost, the quality of individual components may be adjusted. In the web world, this is often adapting an out of the box tool, versus paying for custom development of your own plugin or widget.

Constraint #2 is Cost.

Not all budgets are created equal! We all know that. In the example above, we talked about different levels of quality in kitchen countertops. Everyone knows granite countertops cost more than laminate–and if you hang out on HGTV, you know there are MANY levels above and beyond granite. The reality is, every project has a budget, and together, we have to decide what elements make the most sense for your project. If cost is your priority, that might be accomplished by leveraging existing tools or extending your timeline. There’s more than one way to get the job done, and we’re here to help you understand your best option at different price points.

Constraint #3 is Time.

All projects are limited by time. Not once has a client or coworker said “I don’t know when I need it–send it over when you feel like it!” Timing has to be taken into account when balancing a project’s constraints. Those who have more flexibility with their deadlines may find that pricing can also be flexible, while those with very urgent deadlines may need to pay a rush fee. Think of it like the difference between a post office stamp and a FedEx package. Both services get your letter where it needs to be–but if speed is a priority, it costs more.

Bringing it Together

The true challenge of project management is striking the perfect balance of these elements, which always vary from project to project, and at times can shift over the course of a single project. If a deadline gets moved up, perhaps an element of the original scope can be sacrificed or adjusted to meet the deadline. If the scope can’t change, then perhaps there’s an additional cost to increase labor available to execute these tasks. In this way, the triple constraints of Quality, Time, and Cost govern the entire project management process. No joke.