Businesses waste $97 million for every $1 billion invested in projects. These numbers suggest that many project teams don't get the basics right. The Project Management Institute has found that demand for project managers has consistently grown rapidly over time. So as millions more people join the practice, the likelihood of adopting poor project management practices goes up.
But just like you can't run before you can walk, you can't properly complete big projects without nailing the basics. Many project managers call these fundamentals the "triple constraints" of project management. They're ubiquitous enough that almost every project team must manage them.
Once you know what a problem is, you need a solution. This is where project management software can serve as your secret weapon. In this article, we’ll cover what the triple constraints are and how the following six features can help you solve them. We will also share our survey results* which indicate why it’s so important to manage these constraints.
It's unclear where the Triple Constraint Model of project management comes from. However, research shows that project managers have used 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:
All three constraints are directly related to each other and achieving them in tandem yields a quality project. For example, if you're up against a hard deadline, you can reduce the project scope (aka, de-project scope) to 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 cutting cost and time in the process.
Conversely, the triple constraint theory says 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 impact your project cost, scope, or both.
We’d be remiss if we didn’t point out there are other models that aim to include additional constraints such as resources, risks, and quality. Examples include the project management diamond framework and the six-pointed star model.
But don't stop reading yet: Just because the Triple Constraint Model doesn't account for every part of project management doesn't make it worthless.
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. In fact, the definition of each constraint should be outlined in the project plan.
Project management software lets you track and communicate details such as tasks, budgets, milestones, and reports. These details roll up to the triple constraints of project cost, project time, and project budget. For example, budgeting rolls up to project costs, while tasks roll up to project time. So while software can't solve these constraints for you, it can help you manage them throughout your project lifecycle.
Following are six project management software features that can help you track your triple constraints. Each vendor that is featured below* had to provide all six of the software features discussed in this article.
According to our survey of 303 project managers*, one in four respondents estimate that they finish projects within 10% of the initial budget. One in four respondents to the same survey found that 20% to 50% of their projects end up costing more than their original allocation. Without an easy way to manage project finances, this risk of miscalculating costs increases.
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 generate if it wants to stay profitable. This helps you track project delivery costs to rein things in if they get too expensive.
Shop for project management software with budgeting and expense tracking features.
Dashboards serve as a central place to view your project's key details. You can see assets such as a visual timeline, major task updates, and the budget 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 and easy-to-use display.
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 such as your team’s activity. Users can also create master views of their strategic goals while sharing milestones and deadlines across several departments.
Shop for project management software with dashboards.
Our survey found a shocking 17% of projects blow their timeline by more than 50%. That means there’s almost a one in five chance that your next project could take weeks or months longer to complete than expected. Without a clear way to track deadlines at a project's task and milestone level, your own team's risk of missing due dates is greatly increased.
Use project management software that can track all aspects of a project. For example, Jira lets you create custom tasks that include fields such as priority level and status. 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 any applicable dependencies (i.e., tasks that must be completed prior to reaching that milestone).
Shop for project management software with deadline tracking.
A Gantt chart shows 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. It’s a quick, visual representation of how your project is moving along and it’s also the most ignored feature in project management tools.
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 reorder tasks, adjust timelines, customize your views, and adjust your team members' workloads.
Shop for project management software with Gantt charts.
Projects change drastically throughout their lifecycle, and poor communication is the culprit for one-third of project failures. Without simple ways to keep all team members and stakeholders informed, updates related to the triple constraints will slip through the cracks.
Software that has strong reporting features allow you to share consistent project updates. For example, you can customize reports within Clarizen to show risks per resource (i.e., assignee), along with open issues and change requests. Users can then export this custom view to share with the project team lead or stakeholders.
Shop for project management software with reporting.
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.
Workload views within your project management software will show you who's working on what so you can adjust as necessary. For example, Asana helps you balance tasks across team members and multiple projects. This helps when you need to adjust the project schedule, accommodate approved scope creep, and update work allocation as needed.
Shop for project management software with resource allocation.
Every project can benefit from using software to track and manage project scope, timeline, and budget. But there are tons more features to help you plan and manage your projects. Here are a few suggestions for what to do next to help you find the best solution for you:
Tell us your software requirements and our GetApp App Finder will tell you the best products for your specific needs.
Check out our Project Management Software Category Leaders report to see which products are the most popular and why.
Learn more about more features and benefits of project management software in our Buyers Guide.
Has your software helped your track triple constraints? Leave a review to tell other GetApp readers.
*Results are from GetApp’s Agile Project Management survey of 303 project management professionals/Agile team members currently using project management software in 2019. Stats have been rounded for editorial conciseness and clarity.
Note: The applications selected in this article are examples to show a feature in context and are not intended as endorsements or recommendations. They have been obtained from sources believed to be reliable at the time of publication.