Understanding the project triangle is essential on any project. If you run into problems, which element of your project is going to have to change – scope, time or cost?

In this month’s project management whiteboard video, Simon explores the project triangle and the reasons why you simply can’t deliver a product quickly and is both cheap AND good quality.


Hello and welcome to this month’s project management whiteboard. Today we’re going to talk about the project triangle.

You see behind me there’s a triangle with 3 corners. We have scope which refers to all the deliverables or products which we are going to deliver from our project. There’s cost which refers to the budget, the money that we require or the other resources that we need e.g materials, equipment or buildings. Finally there is time, in other words the project has a fixed start date and end date, so there will be a schedule.

These three elements are the three primary constraints that every project faces. It’s important to recognise that on every project, one of these sides is fixed. For example, many projects are fixed by cost. Examples of these projects are lottery funded projects that are given a grant by the lottery fund and no matter what happens, the project must deliver within that budget. Some projects are fixed by time, like all the London 2012 Olympic projects. They had a certain date by which they must deliver and no matter what happened those projects could not deliver late.

Therefore it’s very useful to decide at the beginning of your project which side of the triangle is fixed. Whichever sides of the triangle are flexible and not fixed means that you can look at these sides to recover a problem with the fixed sides. For example if your time fixed project is going to be delayed, then you could look at the other two sides to help you recover the situation. One possibility is to increase the cost by employing more people to do the work, therefore completing all the remaining work on time. Another more extreme option is to reduce the scope of the work. If you do less work, it can be done in less time and then hopefully you can deliver on time.

If time and cost were unlimited on projects which of course they aren’t, then we wouldn’t need to worry about our project triangle. In fact on such projects we wouldn’t even need to worry about project management. You’ll see there’s a fourth element of the triangle here in the middle, which is quality. Quality refers to the quality of the work, products or the deliverables which we are creating to hand over to our customer, client or user at the end of the project. It’s important to understand that the quality of these deliverables is a result of the three constraints.

For example when you’re planning and trying to do the work in a short period of time, then there’s less chance of being able to deliver a high quality product.

There is an alternative way of viewing the project triangle. Instead of having the 3 corners which are scope, cost and time, you might consider replacing those with good, cheap and quick.

Some people say that on a project, it’s only realistic to aim to achieve two of those three things. So by picking any two out of good, cheap and fast- what do you get?

Lets take these two (good and cheap). As a result you can deliver a product or deliverable which is of good quality and it’s possible to do that cheaply. However, it’s not also possible to do it quickly. It is possible for you to deliver a high quality product quickly but not cheaply at the same time. Also the third combination is that it’s possible to deliver something quickly and cheaply, but it’s probably not going to be very good. So there’s an alternative way of looking at the project triangle, picking any two of these three factors and setting your objectives accordingly.

So that’s all for this week’s project management whiteboard, I hoped you’ve enjoyed it. It would be nice to hear about your projects and to understand whether or not your projects were fixed, if one of the sides was fixed and if whether or not an understanding of the project triangle helped you navigate your way through your projects.

Please send me your comments and thoughts about this and hopefully I’ll see you on the next project management whiteboard. Bye!