The Engagement Triple Constraint of a Project

While scope, cost, and time are always a concern in project management, success with them does not by itself mean project success. Fulfilling the project’s purpose gets you a lot closer…but that’s high level. Implementing a successful project requires tradeoffs – in external areas that require external help.

What Is the Engagement Triple Constraint?

Engagement Triple ConstraintThe Engagement Triple Constraint of a Project is an extension of the Project Triple Constraint, a powerful concept developed by the Project Management Institute (PMI). It was developed by Antonio Nieto-Rodriguez in “The Project Management Handbook: How to Launch, Lead, and sponsor Successful Projects” (paid link), published by Harvard Business Review, and is similar in structure to the Benefits Triple Constraint, also developed in that same reference.

The three constraining elements of the Engagement Triple Constraint are:

  • Alignment – Intersection of the project’s purpose and the team’s passion for it
  • Recognition – Acknowledgment of team members and stakeholders for contributions to the project
  • Dedication – Degree of focus, or percentage of team members’ time, dedicated to the project, where 100% is ideal

The idea is that a change to any of these three constraining elements will require tradeoffs among the others in order to maintain a specific target level of Engagement. Here is how tradeoffs look like with all pairs of the three elements:

  • Alignment to Recognition – A shortfall of Alignment between the project’s purpose and the team’s passion for it will probably require extra effort at Recognition of contributions to compensate. A shortfall in Recognition would need to be balanced with a higher level of Alignment.
  • Alignment to Dedication – A shortfall in Alignment between project purpose and team passion may require increased Dedication – a greater amount of time committed to the project. A shortfall in Dedication to the project can probably only be achievement with a higher level of Alignment to maintain motivation.
  • Recognition to Dedication – A shortfall in Recognition of team members will likely require a greater amount of Dedication to the project. A shortfall in Dedication will likely require greater Recognition of team members in order to keep people more motivated.

In considering these tradeoffs, the risk is in falling short of the Alignment, Dedication, and Recognition needed to maintain the level of Engagement required to make the project successful.

The Engagement Triple Constraint In Practice

Moving beyond the ‘inward’ focus of the Triple Constraint, or Iron Triangle of Cost, Time, and Scope to produce consistent Quality, the Engagement Triple Constraint looks ‘outward’ from the project. It leverages project purpose, resource allocation decisions, and motivational aspects outside the immediate project team.

Engagement is used in a two-way relationship between the project manager and the executive sponsor of the project. It is a way of ensuring that the project and strategy are in sync – for successful execution. This two-way relationship was emphasized in the talk by Michael Porter on Strategy and Project Management at a PMI PMO Symposium. A Strategic Project Manager seeks to interact effectively with the executive sponsor on Engagement tradeoffs.

Here’s how each of these constraining elements relates to Engagement.

  • Alignment to Engagement – A higher level of Alignment between project purpose and team passion results in greater Engagement, while less Alignment decreases Engagement.
  • Recognition to Engagement – More Recognition leads to a greater level of Engagement, whereas less Recognition leads to a decline in Engagement.
  • Dedication to Engagement – Increased levels of Dedication – team members dedicating a higher percentage of their time to the project – result in higher levels of Engagement. Lower levels of Dedication leads to lower levels of Engagement.

As with the Project Triple Constraint and the Benefits Triple Constraint, the key is how all three of the constraints interact with each other. For the Engagement Triple Constraint, a decrease in any one of the constraints requires a net increase in the others in order to maintain the required level of Engagement.

Strategy and the Engagement Triple Constraint

In choosing a desirable strategy, the strategist needs to consider who the executive sponsor might be. This is initially a matter of the type of person, relative position, and interests, aptitudes, and passions.

Strategists, in considering required Engagement for strategic projects, need to consider the support needed to management the Engagement Triple Constraint:

  • Alignment – Which executive(s) have the aptitude and passion for the particular strategy? Are they connected to others in the organization who are share that passion?
  • Dedication – Which executives have access to talent within the organization which can support the strategy? Do they have conflicting interests which might dilute their own Dedication to the initiative?
  • Recognition – Which executives carry sufficient influence and tendency to recognize contribution of team members toward execution of the strategy?

Answering these questions can help consider the viability of the strategic choice. It will enable better judgment as to the potential for successful execution of the strategy.

The Engagement Triple Constraint and Project Management

Use of the Engagement Triple Constraint can help to transform Project Management Offices (PMO’s). Before getting into that, let’s look at how using the Engagement Triple Constraint can be useful in various project management roles.


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  • Portfolio Managers – Ensure that the three Engagement constraints are in place for the projects being selected. Seek information on these constraints for all projects being considered. Make sure that any project selected includes a viable relationship between the project manager and executive sponsor.
  • Program Managers – Ensure that the overall program has an executive sponsor to deal with Engagement tradeoffs. Ensure likewise that each of the individual projects has such a relationship in place.
  • Project Managers – Project managers must be focused not only on delivering, but in maintaining the ongoing dialog with the project sponsor. This dialog needs to include meaningful discussion of strategic issues, including alignment with the strategic purpose for the project. But, from an implementation perspective, it needs to include ongoing discussion of the tradeoffs among Alignment, Dedication, and Recognition. What is the implication of any change, risk, or other project consideration on these?

The PMO can help to line up the content of information on each project to allow for meaningful comparisons, common vocabulary, and common structure. To do this, the PMO will need to devise meaningful metrics for Alignment, Dedication, and Recognition. This can enable Portfolio Managers to consider Engagement holistically, and Program and Project Managers to ensure communication pipeline with executive sponsors are in place.

Moving Forward with the Engagement Triple Constraint

This post has demonstrated the importance of Engagement and how to deal with the constraints of Alignment, Dedication, and Recognition. What is your experience partnering with the project sponsor? How have you handled the constraints?

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