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What is The Triple Constraint? Time, Scope, and Budget Explained

Beginning a new project from scratch is rarely an easy undertaking. From assembling the core project team to outlining the project plan–there are several factors to consider and get just right before the project actually kicks off.

Many use the Triple Constraint Triangle to gain a 3000-foot overview of their project management plan and have rough guidelines to keep the project on track.

What is the Triple Constraint?

The Triple Constraint, also known as the Project Management Triangle or the Iron Triangle, consists of three elements: time, scope, and budget.

  • Time: What is the deadline of your project?
  • Budget: What are you willing to pay to develop this solution?
  • Scope: What features and functionality need to be included?

If you try to move or grow one side of the triangle without moving or growing the others, quality is compromised. For example, if you need a mobile application built yesterday cost goes way up compared to the time and scope becomes limited.

During initial conversations regarding projects, it’s important to have a “dream big” moment, write out your wish list, and shoot for the stars!

If nothing were holding you back…

  • What would your application do?
  • What would it look like?
  • How would people feel when they used it?
  • What types of business challenges would it solve?

Some of the best ideas come out when there are no limits to stifle the possibilities. But the reality is that we all must snap back to avoid getting carried outside of the realm of possibilities.

The Triple Constraint does just that. It is a simple business tool used to keep your project in check.

In the perfect “dream big” world, your Project Management Triangle would look a little something like this:


Equilateral perfection–the balance between the exact time, scope, and budget you want.

Let’s first take a look at the Triple Constraint for something small scale and part of everyday life.

For example, perhaps you are at work and want a sandwich for lunch. What is your dream big moment?

“A deluxe peanut butter and jelly sandwich with natural peanut butter, blackberry jam, and sliced bananas, on whole wheat bread served Panini style (toasted and melted to perfection).”

Normally, you go home for lunch and making this is no problem, but today you have to get back to the office within 30 minutes to make your upcoming meeting, which isn’t enough time with traffic to make the trip home (time constraint). So, with $6.00 in your pocket you head to the market down the street. Luckily, if you slice up the banana yourself, they have all of the fixings for your dream sandwich, so you place your order and head over to pay. The total comes to $6.59 – bummer (budget constraint)!! So, you take the banana off of the order and make it back to the office with five minutes to spare.

In this specific situation, time and budget were set and the scope had to be altered in order for the quality of the “lunch project” to be maintained. Had you bought the banana, you would have been over budget, and had you gone home, you would have been late to your meeting (poor quality).

However, with your $6.00 budget, 30-minute time frame and your willingness to compromise on the banana, you still had a delicious lunch. Mission accomplished!

How this relates to your business

Building and planning a project from the ground up is a bit more complex than a weekday lunch, but the same constraints apply and affect you directly.

And just like any business, we’re sure you care about your time, budget, and scope when it comes to laying out a new project.

Each of the constraints has related questions, intricacies, and trade-offs that play into the overall coordination and final outcome of the project.

6 Questions to Determine Scope

To determine what we are developing (the scope) certain items must be identified, such as:

  1. What features will need to be included in the project?
  2. How will the project be branded?
  3. Who is the target audience?
  4. Is the solution made for one type of device or several different platforms?
  5. Will the application need to work without Internet?
  6. How will the project be deployed?


It is a balancing act and the key to navigating it successfully is prioritization. Figure out what is non-negotiable as opposed to what which features have a little wiggle room.

Maybe you are committed to delivering a native virtual training application regardless of the price it costs to get it done.


Growing the scope will mean you also need to grow your budget and time to maintain quality. So our triangle now grows larger, while still remaining balanced and equilateral.

Or perhaps you are launching a new product in two weeks and need to create a marketing app stat – even if it doesn’t have all the bells and whistles you had hoped.


In order to deliver on time, you may have to limit your scope and be prepared to increase budget.

Now, your triangle is going to become more isosceles shaped (and you thought you would never use geometry after high school). This is okay, because the point of the triple constraints is to give you a benchmark and guide for your project. Depending on your specific needs within the triple constraints, you may not have a perfectly equilateral triangle for the duration of your project.

Another option that is often successful is to compromise a bit on time to implement a phased development approach, spreading the scope and budget out over a longer period.

There are many ways you can find balance by editing the solution to fit your particular circumstances while still creating a quality application.

Don’t stop dreaming. Dream big and write your project wish list!

Then, revisit the Triple Constraints and be prepared to prioritize your time, scope, and budget. Let them be your guideposts as you seek to strike balance amongst all needs of your project.

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Sydney Nordquist

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