Project Management Triangle Guide – Forbes Advisor

The way(s) to successfully manage a project management triangle will depend on the project, its priorities, its propensity for risk and your team’s experience and resources. However, five strategies to consider when managing a project triangle include choosing a flexible constraint, listing features in order of most to least importance, creating risk and change management plans and matching your management methodology to your priority constraint.

Here are five possible ways to manage your project management triangle:

1. Choose at Minimum One Flexible Constraint

As you look at the three constraints in your triangle—cost, time and scope—have a clear understanding from your client or team regarding which are the most important to them. Work with your team or client to pinpoint one of these constraints with which flexibility is allowed. Having this conversation upfront allows you to know how to adjust when the project does not always go as envisioned.

For example, if a client must stick to a deadline and a delay happens, it may make sense to hire more talent to speed things up. Or, if cost is the priority for your client, you might extend the deadline to avoid new hires. Likewise, if your client wants to add new features as customer feedback trickles in but is insistent on finishing on time, clearly communicate that your team needs permission to be flexible on the budget to make this happen.

2. Clarify Nice-to-Haves

Get together with your client, development team and quality assurance team to take a deep look at features in your project’s final deliverable(s). Make a big list of every feature expected. Then, just as you asked your client which constraint is most important, now ask which features are most important and which are simply nice to have. Order all features from most important (required) to least important (nice to have, if priority constraints allow).

This list will help you throughout your project execution to know how to keep your constraints in check while also keeping client satisfaction high. For example, if one feature will require a larger budget than planned due to a raw-materials price boost, you can look at the bottom of your features priority list to decide which nice-to-have feature can be removed to make room in the budget for an increase in a priority-feature price.

3. Create a Risk Management Plan

When managing project risks, set clear expectations and update your team frequently using proactive communication. This communication should begin before project initiation and extend throughout the entire project.

To begin, create a project management plan and present it to clients and project-execution team members. This plan should clearly address the scope of the project. It should also include a risk management plan that shows stakeholders what might go wrong, triggers that might initiate these risks and plans for addressing them. These plans should address how the budget, scope and schedule will change if such risks occur.

Then, during project execution, communicate at the very first sign of a risk trigger with your execution team and your clients. Efficient decision-making is often less likely to happen in the midst of an already out-of-control crisis. Proactive communication, however, helps to keep your triangle balanced by giving you the most options for getting your project back on track.

For example, if a task is to take longer than expected, communicate why the delay happened to your team and client. Then, keep your time—and, by extension, cost—in check by convening your team to plan which talent will be moved from less pressing tasks to the bottleneck task before a standstill happens. All the while, keep your client up to date on your decisions. Proactive communication shows competency and keeps satisfaction high.

4. Create a Change Management Plan

Managing constraints means managing change. If everything goes as planned and you have an agreed-upon cost, time and scope document from project initiation, managing your project triangle will require very little effort. It is when things change—a client suddenly wants a new feature added, for example—that your scope, time and budget go awry. But, if you manage change well, your triangle’s constraints are more likely to stay within satisfactory parameters.

Managing change well begins with creating a clear and actionable change management plan, then following it when change requests are made. A solid change management plan should include several components to address the following:

  • Change management roles. Who is and is not authorized to receive change requests and assess them for approval or rejection? Who will be involved in the execution of approved change requests? Who should be a part of adjusting project constraints—scope, time and cost—to make room for approved changes?
  • Limitations. Record constraints that are off limits when it comes to adjusting to change. Record the constraints that can be more flexibly adjusted to respond to change.
    Change-request approval or rejection process. How will change requests be submitted, assessed, approved or rejected?
  • Change-request time frame parameters. In what time frame should change requests be assessed, approved, rejected or implemented? When is it too late for change requests to be considered?
  • The change in the communication process. How will approved change requests be recorded and executed? How will team members who aren’t authorized to manage change communicate around change?
  • Change management tools. What tools will be used to ensure only necessary changes are made, manage the change-request process, create transparency around change, allow for collaboration around approved changes and track changes?

5. Match a Management Methodology to Your Priority Constraint(s)

There are many project management methodologies to consider but some are more commonly used than others. Waterfall, Agile and Lean are three methodologies that are highly tested and tried in project management. Each is better at managing some constraints over others. Matching your methodology to your project priorities can help to ensure ease of constraint management.

Here is a closer look at each common project management methodology and what constraints they best help to manage:


This methodology is linear with clearly planned project stages that must be completed in the same order in which they are recorded. Because the phases are set, adjustments to their time and scope are very difficult to manage as one change will likely affect the entire project. This methodology is best for projects in which scope and time are rigid but there is some flexibility around the cost.


This methodology best fits projects that need constant adaptations to deliver the most relevant value to the end user. An example of an Agile methodology is Scrum. In Scrum, the objective is set. However, products, solutions and deliverables are allowed to evolve based on new information. Agile fits projects that need iterative product development—or flexible scope. Speed is a strength of this methodology while predictable costs are not as likely.


Lean helps project management teams reduce waste, particularly around cost and scope while focusing on customer value. The project is mapped out from start to finish, then heavily analyzed to reduce waste, such as idle employee time and unnecessary processes. The execution team is instructed to only take action if the customer asks for it. The Lean methodology is a fit for projects that will likely have few risks or scope changes and where cost is a priority.

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