The “Triple Constraint” of Terminology Projects

Iron-TriangleA common topic discussed in terminology training courses deals with project constraints known as the “Triple Constraint”: scope, time (schedule), and cost (budget/resources). They are an important part of project management processes because they limit the smooth running of a project by creating  bottlenecks or restrictions. Your Project Charter usually includes accounts for project constraints, also known as The Iron Triangle because you can rarely change one constraint without also impacting the others. An additional element that is affected by this interaction is quality (“Tetrad”). (In some manuals scope is also regarded as quality). This is why they are represented in a triangle, in which each part affects the other, with quality in the middle of the figure:

If you think of projects in which you have been involved, you will probably identify ways in which the triple constrains affected each other and how quality was also affected in the process: In a terminology project, for example, if your budget is reasonable the quality of your product (termbases, etc.) is likely to be better as compared to an scenario in which you don’t have enough money. And the more time you have to complete the job, the better the quality of your end product.

Enterprise PM (see Source 3 below) provides the following useful definitions:

The Scope expressly lays out the functions, features, data, content, etc. that will be included in the project at hand. You could also say that the scope clearly expresses the desired final result of a project.

Resources always cost money so the two are interchangeable in many ways. When we talk about the cost of a project, we are talking about what needs to be applied or assigned to the project in terms of money and effort in order to make things happen. This can be resources like manpower/labor, it can be materials needed for the job, resources for risk management and assessment or any third party resources that might need to be secured.

Time, in project management, is analyzed down to its smallest detail. The amount of time required to complete each and every component of a project is analyzed. Once analysis has taken place, those components are broken down even further into the time required to do each task. Obviously from all of this we are able to estimate the duration of the project as well as what and how many/much resources need to be dedicated to that particular project.

Once you understand how each component of the Triple Constraint affect each other and learn how to adjust them you will be able to plan your projects more efficiently and better manage risks.

As a final remark, it is important to mention that some argue that the Triple Constraint has lost its luster, and authors like Wideman (see 1 below) present several proposals of new ways to represent it. However, it is still a reference used by many trainers. It reminds me of the controversy of Wüster’s semantic triangle which has undergone different transformations but is still a point of departure to explain how meaning works.

Sources and further reading:

  1. Those Sexy Triangles Again by Max Wideman
  2. The Iron Triangle of Project Management. Balancing Your Budget, Scope, and Schedule by MindTools.
  3. Triple Constraints of Projects: Quality, Cost & Schedule by Enterprise PM.
  4. 8-min video. Triple constraint get redefined by SoftwareManiacLSM.
  5. 2-min video. Triple Constraints of Project Management: Cost Time and Scope by SimpliLearn Training Channel.

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