The Three Components to Project Management

by Greg DePersio

4 min read

One of the most challenging parts of project management is the way certain forces can limit your progress. You’ve probably heard of the good, fast, and cheap dilemma. Customers want things good, fast, and cheap, but it’s difficult to offer all three at the same time. If you produce something fast, you have to cut corners on quality or spend money to expedite the process. To produce something good requires either spending more money or taking more time. That’s why someone wanting good, fast, and cheap should be told to pick two. The project management triangle offers a more formal representation of the good, fast, and cheap dilemma. It outlines the three limitations on project management, known as the triple constraints: time, cost, and scope. Understanding these constraints matters because only by understanding them can you learn to manage them effectively.

Time

Time is a huge limitation on most projects. Maybe the customer imposed a strict deadline, or maybe your time constraints come from other circumstances, such as a lease on a warehouse or lab space running out. Either way, it is crucial to manage your time if you want your project to succeed. Several factors determine the time a project takes. One is the skill and experience of the people working on the project. A big reason why companies such as Google and Microsoft can make big technological leaps so quickly is because they have huge teams featuring the world’s brightest minds hard at work on innovative projects.

Effect of Time on Cost and Scope

You also have to balance time constraints with the other two common limiting factors: cost and scope. The three are interdependent on one another. Consider the implications of trying to complete a project originally scheduled to take six months in four months. This is difficult to accomplish without increasing the project’s cost by hiring more workers or reducing the project’s scope. The best way to manage time is to set a timeline for completion up front and establish lots of milestones along the way. If the project has a three-month deadline, you probably want to set weekly goals for progress made. This way you can recognize early in the process if you’re getting behind, and you can take steps to get back on schedule.

Effect of Time on Quality

In addition, when establishing time goals, consider the effects time potentially has on the quality of your project. It’s always nice to roll out a project fast, but quality work often takes more time. If you’re completing a project for a customer, you want to be on the same page from the beginning. Remember the good, fast, and cheap dilemma. Pick the customer’s brain and determine which items from that list matter most.

Cost

Your projects are limited by the money you have to spend on them. Think about the Google and Microsoft examples. These companies regularly take on some of the most ambitious projects in the history of technology, but they have billions of dollars per year to invest in these projects. A smaller company might have the same vision as Google, but it probably won’t compete unless it finds a way to finance projects on the same level as Google.

Setting a Budget

You want to be realistic with your budget when you set the parameters of a project. Make a list of all the resources you expect to need. These include everything from manpower to equipment and working spaces. Figure out how much money is needed to complete the project based on its scope and timeframe. Higher-quality projects almost always require greater resources.

Effect of Cost on Time and Scope

The other two common constraints, time and scope, often work alongside budget to create challenges. A temporary time delay can mean you have to speed up the remainder of the project to meet its deadline. This can cause budget challenges. If the scope of the project increases midway through, chances are your budget must increase as well. It’s important to brainstorm potential budget-disrupting events ahead of time so you’ll be prepared for them.

Scope

A project’s scope describes its end result or outcome. When each year’s new iPhone or Samsung Galaxy rolls out with all its new features, these represent the scope of a yearlong project to update the company’s flagship smartphone. Scope is important to you, the project manager, because it defines exactly how a successful project should turn out. Pretend one of the smartphone manufacturers wants to update the camera on its flagship phone, double the memory, and offer a newer operating system. When the phone goes to market the following year, it should feature all of those specifications for the undertaking to have been a success.

Effect of Scope on Time and Cost

As you might expect, time and budget affect what kind of scope you can realistically assign to a project. A helpful way to manage scope is to first set your time and budget parameters, and then figure out how big of a project you can reasonably take on with those constraints in place. Project management is difficult, and it’s made even harder by several constraints that feed off each other to create challenges. By identifying these limitations and learning how to manage them, you can work through projects with greater success.

References & Resources

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