Apr 09 2015
The four project parameters: time, cost, quantity and quality

When it comes to project management, these four factors – time, cost, quality and quantity – constitute the most important parameters. It is vital, right from the start of your project planning, to try to define the way in which each of these will affect your project.


Your project deadline is bound to be one of your most important parameters. What is the finish time and why? There may well be a relationship between the budget and the deadline, in that you may have to work within a particular financial year or account to a funder for money spent over a particular period.

As well as your final deadline, there are certain to be a number of critical time points that need to be taken into account. We go into these in more detail in our Project management course but it is important to be clear, right from the start, that in order to achieve the final deadline, several other ‘mini-deadlines’ will have to be met.


You may have to draw up the project budget, or it may have been set by others. You will certainly be responsible for ensuring that the budget is not overspent and that income (if appropriate) is raised according to plan. You may need to ensure that the phasing of income and expenditure is achieved successfully so that you have enough money for the project’s needs in plenty of time.

How much leeway do you have, as Project Manager, in moving the project spend from one cost heading to another? If you are overcommitted on your print budget but have some left over in the training cost centre, can you rob Peter to pay Paul?

It is important to be clear:

  • How much income you must raise to fund the project, if any?
  • How much you can spend and on what?
  • How much income the project is intended to generate?
  • Must you raise the income before you start to spend or not?
  • How much discretion do you have about changing the details of the budget – for example, moving money from ‘post’ to ‘stationery’ if that’s what you think is needed?

In large organisations, especially in the public sector, it is common for Project Managers to be very vague about the budget for their project. "Finance deals with all of that" is a phrase we often hear at the Centre. However, it is unlikely that financial considerations will not affect your project at all and it is wise, as well as good practice, to get as clear a picture as you can of all the income and expenditure constraints involved with your project.


Some projects have no quantity parameters at all; others are very focused on quantity. For example, if the project aim is to design a leaflet informing people about services, then the quantity of leaflets produced is not one of the most important parameters. You need to produce enough for your needs, but the main factors to be monitored will be the quality of the information given, its appropriateness to the audience, the cost involved and the print deadline if any.

However, in the example of employment training for young people, quantity is a key factor. Funders and other stakeholders will have set clear standards for the number of young people receiving the training and the numbers successfully placed in work.


Finally, you need to be aware of the quality parameters involved in the project. Quality standards may be imposed from outside, as in the case of residential care, or they may need to be devised internally and fleshed out in the planning stage of the project. In doing this, you need to be able to answer the question "Is this good enough?"

Quality factors apply to inputs (the raw materials for the project), to outputs (what the project produces), to outcomes (the results of the project), and to processes (the means used to achieve the outputs). So in the example of the employment training project, there will be quality factors in the training materials (the inputs), in the delivery of the training (the process), in the number of young people successfully ‘passing’ the training (the outputs), and in the kind of work the young people achieve at the end of the project (the outcomes).

The four different project parameters are sometimes shown as four perfectly balanced forces. Unfortunately, such a situation never exists. There will always be one or two parameters that matter more than the others. In brain surgery, for example, quality of process and outcomes matters far more than cost and deadline. It is very important to establish with your line manager and other stakeholders what the most important parameters are.

For instance, in the production of an annual report, one organisation will want a full colour glossy report to support its fundraising and publicity. Quality will be a key feature, quantity will be important and budget will be less important if there is a good end result. Another, perhaps smaller, organisation will be happy with a few photocopied stapled sheets in black and white that meet the statutory requirements and that don’t give stakeholders the impression of money ‘wasted’ on inessentials.

Learn more

This article is taken from our Project management published book which supports our two-day course. On this course you will look at every aspect of managing a project successfully. Working on your own case study, you will learn and apply the many tools and techniques involved. By the end of the project management course, you will be able to plan your project effectively, estimating time factors accurately and dovetailing the work of different projects efficiently. Book today

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