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Iron Triangle

Topics Covered on the PMP® Certification Exam

Scope, Cost and Time combined make up the Iron Triangle. These three concepts are heavily tested throughout the entire PMP® Certification Exam. Our four-day Project Management Professional (PMP®) certification course provides an in-depth review of the Iron Triangle and the constraints it can impose on a project.

Understanding the Project Management Iron Triangle

Most project managers are familiar with the Iron Triangle of project management. Some project managers have even gone as far as to refer to the triangle as the single most critical concept in project management.

When a strong understanding of the  Iron Triangle is paired with strong project management skills, many people discover that they can drive even the most challenging project onto successful results.

The Three Prongs of the Iron

Triangle The three points that make up the iron triangle include:

  • Cost. Also referred to as project budget, this refers to the financial constraints that are placed on a project. There are many elements that influence the cost of the project including labor and material costs. While some costs are fixed and not likely to change over time, others are variable require precise calculations. Project managers utilize several methods to estimate project costs including comparison to the cost of similar projects, the rate of costs for goods and labor by unit, the average vendor bids on the project, and the aggregate costs of activities. Because this area is often difficult to determine, many project managers depend on project management applications to calculate projected costs. 
  • Scope. This category is comprised of the tasks that are required to complete the goals of a project. The scope involves the specific requirements to complete a project successfully. Failure to properly handle scope can result in a project not being delivered on time and ultimately scope creep, which means that it is critical for project managers to monitor this element. Another challenging aspect of scope is managing stakeholder's expectations, which can sometimes change during the project lifecycle. As a result, it is critical for project managers to learn how to manage change requests. 
  • Time. This category includes the time that is required to us complete a project. In many cases, time is initially calculated based on the amount of time that it takes to move a project from start to finish. One of the ways that project managers plot project schedules is through a Gantt chart,  which involves timeline as well as task dependencies. Successful schedule management often requires creating plan schedules, defining what activities must be completed to complete the project, deciding on the most efficient logical order, estimating what is needed to perform each part of the project, estimating how long it will take to complete each activity, and comparing projected schedules to actual results. 

The Importance of the Iron Triangle

Each of these elements of the Iron Triangle impacts how projects are managed. As many project managers discover, however, sacrificing one of these constraints often results in another element being compromised. One of the reasons, why the Iron Triangle is valuable, is that it helps a manager understand what trade-offs will be required to complete a project as well as what impact this will have on future projects. How the Iron Triangle Is Used In each project, there are certain elements that can be altered and others that cannot. The Iron Triangle provides workers with a plan that informs them about what can and cannot be adjusted. Project managers treat the Iron Triangle like a juggling act which helps them to determine how to most effectively deliver a project.

Here are some specific examples of how the Iron Triangle can be used by project managers:

  • After an unexpected budget cut on a project, a project manager would view the cost points of the triangle as reduced which result in the project's schedule being pushed back so that cheaper resources can be found.
  • While working on a project to launch a new product, a client requests that the launch date is brought forward. In response, a project manager would examine how reducing the time part of the Iron Triangle would also result in increased costs to meet this new deadline.
  •  As part of a project, the scope is increased to add new features to the product. A project manager would determine that in this situation, the budget and schedule would be impacted by this change in scope.

Improve your Project Management Knowledge & Skills

Skills Today When you combine knowledge of the Iron Triangle with the skills developed from project management boot camp, you will discover that you can successfully plan for schedules, scope, and cost elements associated with projects. To improve these skills,  we invite you to enroll in one of our project management classes or certification programs today.