Project management is one of today’s fastest growing careers. The Project Management Institute predicts that employers will need 88 million people in project management roles by 2027.

The challenge? Businesses waste $97 million for every $1 billion invested in projects. These numbers suggest that many project teams don’t get the basics right. And with millions of people projected to join the industry, the likelihood of adopting poor project management practices increases.

Just like you can’t run before you can walk, you can’t complete big projects without nailing the basics. Many project managers call these fundamentals—time, cost, and scope—the “triple constraints” of project management. They’re ubiquitous enough that almost every project team must manage them.

But once you know what a problem is, you need a solution. This is where project management software can serve as your secret weapon.

What are the triple constraints of project management?

It’s unclear where the phrase “triple constraints of project management” comes from. However, research shows that project managers have referenced these constraints (which are also known as the project management triangle or the iron triangle) since at least the 1940s.

The triple constraints of project management are:



According to the triple constraints theory, because all three constraints relate directly to one other, achieving them in tandem yields a quality project. For example, if you’re up against a hard deadline, de-scoping project tasks can cut time and costs as well. When you de-scope project tasks that are less critical in the short term, you can meet your next project milestone while also cutting costs and time.

Conversely, the triple constraints say that a negative impact on one of these constraints yields a domino effect. For example, if you underestimate the time spent on a project, the iron triangle implies that this will also hurt your project’s cost, scope, or both.

Constraints of the triple constraints model

Despite its fame, the iron triangle has some limitations. For example, the project management discipline is more business-focused than ever before. But the iron triangle doesn’t account for how well a project achieves its business goals.

If you hit your project’s goals for cost, time, and scope, does that make your project a success? Not necessarily. If your project doesn’t achieve the business goals that its stakeholders need, then its quality is questionable. That’s one reason why critics call the iron triangle a simplistic model that doesn’t address what today’s project managers need.

Other project management models try to account for more constraints than cost, time, and scope. Rather than highlighting quality as the end result, the diamond model includes quality as a constraint itself. For those who don’t think the diamond model’s enough, the six-pointed star model aims for more inclusivity.

An extended version of the triple constraints (Source)

It’s easy to spot the pattern: Today’s project management is too broad for formulas to capture every aspect. Projects in our digital era have more team members, stakeholders, and business value than ever before. The rising use of project management’s Agile methodology in business boardrooms confirms that it applies to more than IT projects.

But don’t stop reading yet: Just because the iron triangle doesn’t account for every part of project management doesn’t make it worthless.

How to solve the triple constraints

Every project has constraints, and almost every project has the iron triangle’s constraints. Cost, time, and scope are universal enough that it’s crucial to track them throughout your project lifecycle.

Project management software lets you track and communicate such project details as tasks, budgets, milestones, and reports. These details roll up to the triple constraints of cost, time, and budget. For example, budgeting rolls up to project costs, while tasks roll up to project time.

If you’re already using project management software, it’s likely that you also practice the triple constraints. Though software can’t solve these constraints for you, it can help you manage them throughout your project lifecycle.

Here are six project management software features that can help you track the triple constraints. Each vendor that is featured below had to provide all six of the software features discussed in this article.

1. Budgeting helps you estimate costs and track expenses

 WHY IS THIS IMPORTANT?  According to research by Software Advice, a mere 8 percent of respondents said that they finish projects within initial budget. Nearly 1 in 5 respondents to the same survey found that 20 to 50 percent of their projects ended up costing more than their allocation. Without an easy way to manage project finances, this risk of miscalculating costs increases.

 WHAT’S THE SOLUTION?  Check your project management software’s budgeting capabilities. For example, Mavenlink has a “margin analysis” tool that measures actual versus projected profit margins. It also provides project and job costing features to calculate how much a project should make if it wants to stay profitable. This helps you track project delivery costs to rein things in if they get too expensive.

Mavenlink’s margin analysis tool (Source)

Shop for project management software with budgeting and expense tracking features.

2. Dashboards let you track your team’s activity

 WHY IS THIS IMPORTANT?  Dashboards act as a central place to view your project’s key details. You can see assets like graphs, charts, data presentations, and activity streams at a glance. Think of dashboards as your project’s highlight reel: They allow team members and stakeholders to view a project’s progress and milestones in a neat display.

 WHAT’S THE SOLUTION?  Check if you can customize your project management dashboards. Smartsheet offers a feature called “Smartsheet Sights” in its Business plan which lets users click into specific project details. Users can also create master views of their strategic goals while sharing milestones and deadlines across several departments.

A project’s status in Smartsheet (Source)

Shop for project management software with dashboards

3. Deadline tracking lets you progress toward milestones

 WHY IS THIS IMPORTANT?  Almost half of all software projects exceed their budgets or get turned in late. Without a clear way to track deadlines at a project’s task and milestone levels, your own team’s risk of missing due dates goes up.

 WHAT’S THE SOLUTION?  Use project management software that can track all aspects of a project. Jira lets you create custom issue types that include custom fields. You can add workflows that contain status for what’s on track, at risk, past due, and complete. You can also link these milestones to dependencies.

Jira’s due date indicator plug-in (Source)

Shop for project management software with deadline tracking

4. Gantt charts let you visualize project data

 WHY IS THIS IMPORTANT?  Gantt charts show dependencies between project activities and their current status. Tasks that must be performed lie on the vertical axis, while time intervals lie on the horizontal axis.

 WHAT’S THE SOLUTION?  Gantt charts visualize a wide range of project data, from time and resource estimations to centralizing project requirements. TeamGantt puts these charts at its product’s core, along with prioritizing task and time management features. You can re-order tasks, adjust timelines, customize your views, and adjust your team members’ workloads.

A Gantt chart within TeanGantt (Source)

Shop for project management software with Gantt charts

5. Project reporting tracks progress against constraints

 WHY IS THIS IMPORTANT?  Projects change drastically throughout their lifecycle, and poor communication is the culprit for one-third of project failures. Without easy ways to keep all team members and stakeholders informed, updates related to the triple constraints will slip through the cracks.

 WHAT’S THE SOLUTION?  Software that has strong project reporting features allows you to share consistent project updates. For example, you can customize reports within Clarizen to show risks per assignee, along with open issues and change requests. Users can then export this custom view to share with the project team lead or stakeholders.

Custom status reports in Clarizen (Source)

Shop for project management software with reporting

6. Resource allocation prevents burnout and lets you plan ahead

 WHY IS THIS IMPORTANT?  As a project manager, you must assign and schedule the resources you have in the most effective way. By prioritizing resource availability relative to demand, team leads can monitor and assign resources across the project team.

 WHAT’S THE SOLUTION?  Workload views within your project management software will show you who’s working on what so you can adjust as necessary. Wrike,which ranked first in GetApp’s Q3 Category Leaders ranking of project portfolio management software, lets you balance resources among team members and track their performance. If someone starts to fall short of their scope, you can correct course as needed.

Wrike’s effort allocation screen (Source)

Shop for project management software with resource allocation

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Note: The information contained in this article has been obtained from sources believed to be reliable. The applications selected are examples to show a feature in context, and are not intended as endorsements or recommendations.

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