Doctor Project Forum – Managing Within the Triple Constraints

March 2014

Dear Doctor Project
I hate my sponsor. He tells me I have to get the project completed within the constraints. I know it’s not enough time and budget. I don’t have the resources. My sponsor won’t listen to me. I’ve explained to them the concept of trade-offs but they don’t care. They tell me to just get it done.

Under Appreciated

Dear Under Appreciated,

As project managers we often throw up the “Triple Constraints,” which are: scope, time and cost. We usually ask our Project Sponsor, “What is most important to you? Is it to complete the project fast, good or cheap?” We think this is a reasonable question; after all, how can we possibly deliver all of them? Then we explain that there needs to be “trade-offs” between time, cost and scope. After all, how can we deliver all of them? Based on our experience it doesn’t seem possible. But we rarely produce any data to support this discussion. It’s just our feeling (based on our experience of course) but without any data to back it up. So the Sponsor patiently listens.

If I was the Project Sponsor, this is how I’d respond back to you, “Thank you for raising these concerns. I’m glad I’ve given you an opportunity to vent your frustrations. I hope you feel better. Now go and complete the project.”
The current thinking around these “Triple Constraints” is that it is no longer a model that is referenced. Review the PMBOK Guide ® – 4th Edition and the reference to it stopped there. In 1.3 – What is Project Management? The guidelines states that “managing a project” typically includes:

  • Balancing the competing project constraints including, but not limited to: Scope, Quality, Schedule, Budget, Resources, Risk

So, the bottom line is that that we must become more comfortable with integrating the certainty with the uncertainty. Our Project Sponsors expect us to figure it out. We must be able to manage within these constraints. This is where the application of innovation in our projects becomes important.

Doctor Project

Doctor Project provides helpful advice for managing projects. This article provides tips on how to keep track of project details. Please send your questions, issues, concerns and challenges about your Projects, Project Leaders, Project Management Office (PMO or EPMO) or Project Sponsor to

Michael Stanleigh

Michael Stanleigh, CMC, CSP, CSM is the CEO of Business Improvement Architects. He works with leaders and their teams around the world to improve organizational performance by helping them to define their strategic direction, increase leadership performance, create cultures that drive innovation and improve project and quality management. Michael’s experience spans public and private sector organizations in over 20 different countries. He also delivers presentations to businesses and conferences throughout the world. In addition to his consulting practice and global speaking he has been featured and published in over 500 different magazines and industry publications.

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