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The Iron Triangle Of Design Project Management

October 29, 2021 | Productivity

Design projects are bound by certain limitations; while designers are often the “go with the flow” type, you’d be hard-pressed to find a client with no budget, no deadline, and no opinion on the project requirements. In the field of design project management, these constraints are referred to as the Iron Triangle. The corners represent time, budget, and scope, and in the center of the triangle lies quality.

Now, you might be wondering, how is quality determined for something that’s largely up to interpretation such as design? To answer this question, artists can ask a few more:

  • Does the piece meet the business objectives it was meant to achieve?
  • Is the work aligned with the company’s branding?
  • Is the message clearly communicated?
  • Does the artwork elicit the desired emotion?
  • Are design principles being utilized?
  • Is the piece original?
  • Does the art look clean and professional?

Not all of these questions need to be answered with a “yes” for the design to be high quality (if the company wants to branch out from their typical style, then the artwork shouldn’t match the company branding) – these questions are just a place to start.

To ensure the work remains high quality, the three points on the Iron Triangle can’t all be fixed; according to the Iron Triangle of design project management, any shifts in one of the constraints without adequately adjusting the others will have a negative impact on the design. Clients decide they want more from the artist, deadlines get moved up, budgets disappear faster than expected, and at least one constraint needs to be flexible to allow for some of these changes. So, to balance the Iron Triangle, tradeoffs may need to be made. Whether time, scope, or budget is most important will depend on the client’s specific needs – the designer’s job is to prioritize the constraints accordingly. 

Managing Design Project Management Constraints


Scope is the size of the project – the total amount of work that needs to be done. This includes the level of detail, the number of deliverables, and the design’s complexity. Changes to any of these things will almost always impact time and budget, as time and budget have a direct relationship with scope; increases in the project scope require an increase in the time or budget, and if time or budget are restricted, the scope will have to be decreased as well to ensure the quality doesn’t suffer. 

Scope Creep

Scope can increase for a number of reasons, one of the most prominent being scope creep. This occurs when the project requirements change at some point after a designer has agreed to the work. While scope creep can be somewhat unavoidable, there are things that can prevent it. To start, designers and their clients can clearly define the project requirements early on, preventing any scope creep due to ambiguity (ex. not clarifying the number of deliverables invites clients to change their minds about how many deliverables they want). Designers can also gather written approval on the project requirements, so if the client tries to increase the scope, they have proof of exactly what they agreed to. 


In the Iron Triangle of design project management, time is the period in which the project will be completed. This includes every phase of the project, from planning, to designing, to the review cycle. Any unplanned changes to the schedule, such as late-in-the-game redesigns or adjustments, can impact the project’s timeline, so certain phases may need to be condensed to stay on track (often resulting in a decrease in scope) or the deadline may need to be extended. 


The budget includes more than just the cost of the artwork itself, it also includes all of the resources (tools, equipment, software, and people) necessary to bring the work to fruition. This is often one of the more fixed points on the Iron Triangle of design project management; money is a finite resource for most businesses, and they may only have so much to allocate to a project. So, if the budget is too tight for the project to realistically be completed in an acceptable quality, the scope will need to be adjusted (and possibly the timeline as well). 

Unless the client has unlimited funds to give to a project, in order to prevent any last-minute changes to the scope (and a potentially very unhappy client), it’s typically best to establish a solid budget before the project begins. One way for designers to do this is to look at similar projects they’ve worked on in the past. This will allow them to assess where funds went, what all a certain budget was able to pay for, and if any unexpected costs came up that they can plan for this time around. With this information, they can estimate the highest and lowest possible costs for the project, and make sure the budget set out by the client is realistic. And on the client’s side, if costs are the most important consideration, they may want to opt for a remote design team; according to Classic Informatics, remote teams allow for more control over expenses. 

Gaming The Iron Triangle With Ashore 

In general, you can’t increase one of the Iron Triangle’s constraints without impacting the others… but there is a loophole: innovation. By adopting the right tools and technology, you can significantly reduce the time and resources necessary to complete a project, allowing you to do more with less. 

Managing Scope With Ashore

Ashore offers comprehensive checklists to help ensure that everything the project entails is accounted for during the review phase. Whether it be spelling and grammar, a call to action, working links, or any other element of the work, checklists will make sure that no detail is overlooked, guaranteeing that the full scope of the project is completed as planned and nothing gets moved to the next round of revisions prematurely. Checklists are also an excellent way to prevent scope creep, as they should include everything the project requires – nothing more, nothing less. If the client argues that the project is missing elements that were not discussed, you can refer them back to the checklist, so if they want something added, they’ll (hopefully) be more understanding if it impacts the timeline and/or budget. 

Managing Time With Ashore

To help users better manage their time, Ashore provides a proof timeline for every project, including all communications and actions taken on a proof. This will allow you to reference previous work when planning future projects, so you can better determine how long each stage will realistically take. Ashore also offers a dashboard allowing you to see the status of every proof, color-coded so you can quickly assess whether a project is approved, being reviewed, or overdue. And lastly, Ashore offers helpful automations to streamline the entire process. To make sure everyone stays on track, Ashore offers automatic notifications and reminders, saving the designer from having to write and send them out themselves, and automated workflows, so once you find a process that works, you can replicate it. With all of this, designers on Ashore get their proofs approved 50% faster (that’s an actual statistic!).

Managing Budget With Ashore

Miscommunications can be detrimental to a project’s budget. According to a 2011 report, poor communication cost the 400 large companies surveyed an average of $62.4 million per year in productivity losses. While a single design project is unlikely to lose $62.4 million, design work isn’t immune from this issue. Miscommunications can run rampant during review and approval; while the client might have a clear picture of what they want in their heads, they may not always communicate it in the best way. In those situations, the designer is left creating far too many iterations, and the client is left paying for all of that unnecessary work. Ashore all but solves this problem. Ashore offers contextual commenting, threaded comments, and markup tools, putting reviewers in a position to point to something directly and talk about it. With this, artwork can get approved faster, because the parties involved can actually understand what each other are saying. 

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With fully customizable checklists, proof timelines, contextual commenting, and markup tools, Ashore has everything you need to get more out of your time and money. Ready to game the Iron Triangle of design project management? Sign up for free now!

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