Speaking Project Management in eDiscovery: Managing the Triple Constraint

Speaking Project Management in eDiscovery Includes Managing the Triple Constraint

Our last post concluded our Speaking Technical in eDiscovery series by discussing the importance of understanding metadata. Understanding legal and technical concepts are important to speaking the languages of eDiscovery, but you can’t succeed in discovery projects without speaking project management. And one of the most important project management concepts to understand is the triple constraint of project management.

The Triple Constraint of Project Management

When it comes to successfully managing any project, you must manage three constraints, which are:

  • Time: The schedule for the project to reach completion.
  • Scope: The tasks required to complete the project and meet its goals.
  • Cost: The financial constraints (i.e., budget) around the resources needed to complete the project.

It seems obvious but a successful project is completed on time, accomplishing the tasks that you set out to accomplish, within the budget you have set to complete those tasks.

However, despite best efforts to accurately estimate what a project will entail, projects often don’t go as expected, forcing a change in at least one of the constraints. You may have heard the term “scope creep” before, and that happens in many projects. If scope increases in a project, either the time needs to be extended or the budget needs to be adjusted (or both) to accommodate the larger scope. Or if the deadline for a project gets moved up, you either need to reduce the scope of the project to be accomplished or increase costs to accomplish the same scope within a shortened time frame.

A great way to look at the triple constraint is to put them on a triangle with each of the constraints as one of the lines – you can’t change the length of one of the lines without changing the length of at least one of the other two lines to maintain the triangle. The constraints interrelate within any project.

Applying the Triple Constraint to Discovery Projects

Just like any project, discovery projects are impacted by the triple constraint. Here are a couple of examples of how the triple constraint can be impacted by real world discovery scenarios:

  • Processing Data: You expected to have 500 GB of data in the case, but you had 1 TB of data instead (increased scope). You either need to extend the deadline to process the additional data (time) or spin up extra machines to process it within the original deadline (cost).
  • Linear Review: The scope of relevant search terms is broader than expected, leading to more documents to review for relevancy to meet the production deadline, which forces you to either negotiate for a deadline extension (or rolling productions, which is several deadlines, but with documents produced along the way) or add reviewers.

When it comes to project management, the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure (FRCP) enforce the idea of the triple constraint within discovery projects as well. Rule 26(b)(1), which we discussed here, is designed to limit scope to be proportional to the needs of the case, with one of the six factors – the amount in controversy, the parties’ resources and whether the burden or expense of the proposed discovery outweighs its likely benefit – impacting cost. Rule 16(b) discusses the scheduling order for the case, including the timing of the order. The rules are designed with project management in mind!

Two Factors to Normalize the Triple Constraint

All things being equal, a change to one of the constraints will impact one or both other constraints. However, two factors can normalize – or even eliminate – the need for those changes. They are:

  • Expertise: The more experienced you are in managing projects, the more likely you will be prepared to plan for potential changes in your projects. Experienced PMs plan for contingencies and that planning can minimize the impact of changes that would otherwise affect the goals of “on time, on scope, on budget”. Most every PM at Cobra Legal is an attorney, has 8+ years of experience, and holds advanced certifications in a variety of platforms.
  • Technology: The ability to leverage technology is a “wild card” in the equation; for example, in the review project above a decision to use predictive coding on the project (either initially or when faced with increased scope within a given deadline) could enable you to still address that increased scope within the same time/cost constraints.


To speak project management in eDiscovery, you must understand the triple constraint of project management. However, the ability to leverage expertise and technology can minimize the disruption that a change in one of the constraints can have on the other two. It’s important to work with a team that has the expertise and understands the technology to keep your project on the path toward meeting all three of your goals!

In the next post, we’ll start our discussion of Speaking Project Management in eDiscovery with a discussion of the knowledge areas you may need to manage in a typical discovery project. There may be more than you think! For more information about Cobra’s eDiscovery services, click here.

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