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The Trade Offs of a Successful Project: Scope vs Budget vs Time


There is a phrase in Project Management that many see as the cornerstone of a successful project – ‘The Triple Constraint’ – which refers to the balance of scope, time and budget during the life-cycle of a project.

The trade offs on a successful project occur when one of these carefully-balanced elements is jeopardised. For example, if the scope of a project changes, then the time and/or budget will need to move to accommodate this change.

Take a brochure website for example; an additional piece of functionality is required during the course of the project design, involving the ability to show testimonials in key areas of the site. What can a Project Manager do to help accommodate this?

  1. Scope trade – If the new requirement is added in then this can be traded for an existing requirement. This usually surrounds functional requirements (e.g. account registration or newsletter sign up) and this trade off would be balanced around the time assigned for each requirement against the assigned priority (i.e. is this functional addition a higher priority than another).
  2. Increase of budget – If scope trade is not a viable option then the budget will need to be increased. A price is created for a set list of requirements and if an addition to this list is made then the price will need to be increased.
  3. Timescale change – Adding in additional requirements will have an affect on the timescale of a project. The amount of time would be dependent on the additions.

There are any number of things that can alter the course of a project, but the constraints remain the same – shift one and it will shift another. This balancing act is where the trade offs happen.

It’s the Project Manager’s role to ensure the client’s expectations are managed throughout a project as they need to understand the impact of something like a change to the scope. The Project Manager should work to accommodate a change and offer a solution – while letting the client know how this will affect the project.

At WDL we employ tried and tested project processes in a stage-based format with milestone payments, feedback points, sign offs and QA (Quality Assurance) at each key stage to help us deliver high quality work within scope, on time and on budget.