“Operations keeps the lights on, strategy provides a light at the end of the tunnel, but project management is the train engine that moves the organization forward.”

– Joy Gumz, Project Management Guru

Projects are always a work in progress. Plans are always imperfect, and course corrections are typically more the norm than the exception. You may have been part of a trainwreck project, which was delayed or over budget, had scope creep, and didn’t deliver on quality or all of the above. Failed projects seem to be more the norm than the exception. Inevitably, at some point mid-flight in a project’s lifecycle, stakeholders and decision-makers demand more scope, lower costs, and quicker delivery. And, often the demands are simply agreed to, often a sign the project will ultimately fail.

The key to ensuring a project is still moving in the right direction while adjusting elements during mid-flight is to properly debate the trade-offs when it comes to changing the scope, time, budget, or quality of a project. Strategic leadership is often about making the right sound decisions in the middle of important projects. The project management triangle is a great tool to frame the debate and understand the give and take with a project when it comes to changing the scope, cost, time, or quality of a project.

What is the project management triangle (iron triangle)?

The project management triangle also referred to as the iron triangle, is a simple framework to understand the potential constraints and trade-offs when managing a project. The project management triangle is comprised of cost, time, and scope on the three sides, with quality in the middle of the triangle.

Project Triangle Example

The idea behind the project triangle is that if you want to reduce or increase one of the dimensions of the triangle, there are implications for the other dimensions of the triangle. For instance, if you want to increase the scope of a project, you should think through the potential necessary increases in cost or time or decrease in quality. Typically, you won’t be able to simply increase the Scope without any changes to cost, time, and quality. On the flip side, you typically can’t simply cut the costs of a project without an impact on scope, time, or quality.

How do you use the project management triangle?

For a project to succeed, a steering committee needs to debate and agree on changes to scope, cost, time, or quality.

A project management triangle is a simple tool, and there isn’t much magic to it. Here are the best practices for using the project management triangle:

Before a project begins

Before a project starts, scope out and agree on the requirements and resources. Develop and decide on project costs, timing, and quality expectations. Put a high-performing team together and create the conditions for the team to be successful. Also, have a project champion who will provide the political air cover and support for the project.

Once a project is in-flight

Create proper project governance including:

o Create a project scorecard outlining the scope, cost, time, and quality, and the measurement protocol to measure the project against the original budget, schedule, and scope.
o Set up a project committee with periodically scheduled meetings to guide the project and make decisions about changes in scope, cost, time, and quality.
o Set up a simple 15-minute update at the start of each day. This meeting is to identify barriers and get them out of the way.
o Make sure the project team provides a weekly project progress update. If the project is not on schedule what are the plans to get it on schedule and keep it on schedule? (If needed, the schedule can be modified, but never lose the original commitment date.)
o Always debate the trade-offs of changing project expectations.
o Once there are agreed-on changes to scope, cost, time, and quality stick to them, reset expectations and over-communicate them.

After a project is complete

Conduct a postmortem to understand the over or under-delivery of a project’s scope, cost, time, and quality. Try to understand the root causes of issues, where there was creep, and how to avoid them in the future.


To get you going on improving the management and execution of your project, download the free and editable Project Management PowerPoint Scorecard.


Project Management Scorecard Example Template


 Learn more about Joe Newsum, the author of all this free content and a McKinsey Alum. I provide a suite of coaching and training services to realize the potential in you, your team, and your business. Learn more about me and my coaching philosophy.
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