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Identifying the project criteria of time, cost and quality

Key project criteria from the client’s perspective are:

  • Cost risk – the risk that the final cost may exceed the client’s stated budget
  • Time risk – the risk that the project will be delivered later than planned or required
  • Design or quality risk – the risk that the client is unable to easily influence the quality of the project outcome and will not get what was anticipated

When these risks are prioritised by the client, they are often seen to clash and, in order to deliver the project, compromises have to be undertaken – not an ideal start to any project.

The procurement triangle of time, cost and quality depicts the explanation that the key project criteria (the ‘risk’ at the top of the triangle) will drive the choice of procurement route, with the other ‘risk’ factors (at the base of the triangle) taking a lower priority.

The procurement triangle of time, cost and quality

*Many examples of procurement triangles of time, cost and quality exist. This example is adapted from one taken from Cartlidge (2013). It is available in the ‘Downloads’ section below

Emphasis on only one of the key criteria will almost certainly have a negative effect upon the others.

From a client’s perspective, the cost, quality and time paradigm might be considered as being the highest quality, at the lowest cost, in the shortest time. Unfortunately this is not always possible and a compromise has to be sought, based on the best compromise of the client’s priorities.

The procurement strategy eventually chosen should balance risks against project objectives at an early stage. The client’s business case ought to help determine which criteria are most important and thus constitute the greatest risk.

Your task

You are working on a project, which is at an early stage, and have been asked to question the client as to which are the key project criteria.

The project details are:

The client is looking to develop a leisure park to the west of the city, in conjunction with the local government. The park will contain several phases over an anticipated five-year period. Phase 1 will be constructed first and comprises a 10-screen cinema and four adjacent restaurants and bars.

In order to ascertain from the client what is the most important project criterion to the success of Phase 1, produce a list of questions you would ask.

Share your list of questions with other learners.


Cartlidge, D. (2013) Quantity Surveyor’s Pocket Book. 3rd edn. [online] Abingdon: Routledge. available from https://locate.coventry.ac.uk/primo-explore/fulldisplay?docid=COV_ALMA5147660640002011&context=L&vid=COV_VU1&search_scope=LSCOP_COV&isFrbr=true&tab=local&lang=en_US [6 May 2020]

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This article is from the free online course:

Pre-Contract Management for Construction Projects: The Basics

Coventry University