The Holy Project Trinity

“Scope, Schedule, Budget. Pick two.” This unattributed quote is famous among people who manage projects for a living. The Triple Constraint, it is formally called by the Project Management Institute. I’ve been doing this so long that I often assume everyone understands the fundamental nature of this concept. It is pretty simple, but the nuances are tricky.

  • Scope: What are we trying to accomplish? What are we building? What’s for dinner
  • Schedule: When will it be done? When can I move in? When’s dinner?
  • Budget: How many people will we need? What will it cost? Who’s buying dinner?

“Pick two” means that you can impose your will on two of the three, but I get to calculate the third. If you want a gourmet dinner by 6:00 pm this evening (scope and schedule) then I get to calculate the cost (probably a lot because I will have to pull some strings). If you want a gourmet dinner for under $30, then I get to calculate the schedule and will probably ask for more time to find some chef willing to work for free. You get the idea, right?

The nuance comes when your boss tells you they want a gourmet dinner tonight for under $30. Now, you have to figure out which of those three the boss really values the most. You might have to apply creative license to “gourmet” or you may be a little later than 6:00 or it may run a little over $30.

But what about the real world? The truth is executives often will try to impose all three on you. Usually in the form of cutting budget or adding scope during the course of the project. Do not, under any circumstances, throw your humble blogger under the bus. Simply add a prominent risk to your list. For example, if your budget was cut, the risk is that you will miss the date or not everything the boss wanted will get done. If scope is added, the risk is that you will blow your budget.

I could go on for hours about how to document and manage risks but then I’d risk missing my buss.

Scope, Schedule, Budget: Which two would you pick?


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