Project constraints refer to the factors that shape a project’s limitations. These can include such things as costs and deadlines and project scope. Knowing how to identify and manage project constraints can increase the odds of the project being a success.
In this article, we discuss project constraints, share seven types of project constraints, provide examples and discuss ways to manage any project limitations.
What are project constraints?
Project constraints are the limiting factors that can affect a project’s quality of execution. They’re usually different for each project, depending on the industry and requirements. Many project constraints depend on each other, with certain limitations affecting a team’s ability to complete other work. For example, if a project’s cost increases, a team may limit its scope so that work can stay on budget. A project manager often uses their skills and training to manage project constraints and create quality work.
3 main constraints in project management
Several possible constraints can affect a project, but three of them are extremely important to consider for project work. Often called the triple constraints of project management, many managers consider the following types important for project planning.
Most projects have a clear deadline that a project manager respects. Delivering a project on time is usually a crucial measure of its success, as any delay typically involves higher costs and the need to revisit any plans that the project’s stakeholders have after its completion. The project manager may use their experience and knowledge to estimate how long the project may take until completion. This includes anticipating possible delays, setbacks, risks and other unforeseen events.
A project’s overall cost is another major constraint for the project manager. A project manager often finds ways to complete the project without exceeding the allocated budget. Cost management is an ongoing task during the completion of a project, as the project manager may constantly monitor spending to make sure that it matches budgeting requirements. If there are any issues, a project manager may develop strategies to limit spending so they can honor the budget.
A project’s scope is a set of deliverables that the project manager guarantees to the project’s stakeholders. For example, a company may expect a project team to deliver a new data management system along with an employee training manual. Discussions of scope often focus on what problems the project may solve for a company or organization.
Stakeholders and project teams often define the scope at the beginning of a project, therefore avoiding any miscommunication or attempts to modify it once the project begins. The project’s scope is dependent on its deadline and budget, as a looser deadline and a larger budget typically result in a more satisfactory outcome for the project stakeholders. Alternatively, a tight deadline and a smaller budget typically limit the project’s scope.
Additional project constraints
These additional project constraints can affect work and planning for many project types:
Quality: Related to scope, the quality constraint requires project teams to complete successful work that meets all expectations.
Benefits: In many cases, project managers may consider the benefits that their work can offer stakeholders and users.
Risks: The risk constraint requires a manager to consider any possible failures during project work and how they could affect stakeholders.
Resources: Similar to cost, this constraint involves planning the required resources for a project and considering what’s possible with resource allocation.
Project constraint examples
Here are a few examples of situations where project teams experience constraint issues as they complete their work:
A construction company wants to update an arena in time for a sports event. During the building process, the engineers identified an unexpected issue with 15% of the stands. Since the time constraint is impossible to avoid based on the timing of the event, one or both of the other two may change to allow the project to wrap on time.
The project manager can ask for a budget increase, which could allow the team to purchase additional resources to help them deliver the entire project on time. They could also ask for a scope decrease, for example, holding off a proposed bathroom update to focus on the stands instead. The solution they choose can depend on the wishes and flexibility of stadium stakeholders.
A company plans on making the most inexpensive smartwatch on the market and delivering it by a certain date. Before the project wraps, though, a team member discovers that under the current time and budget restraints, the watch’s battery life would be 20% lower than initially planned. With this information in mind, the project manager knows that they may have to modify the project plan to meet their goals.
Given that the watch’s inexpensive price is its main selling point, modifying the budget is not an option in this situation. Also, considering its low price point, it’s likely that sales would not be greatly affected by the battery life decrease. Therefore, the project manager chooses to stay within the project budget and time constraints, while sacrificing the project’s scope by delivering a slightly inferior product.
How to manage project constraints
Here are some strategies that project managers may use to estimate, understand and manage each major constraint:
Time management constraints
Managing time management constraints often involves the following strategies:
Planning: Defining a project’s goals, how to achieve them and the needed equipment and procedures are all part of planning a project
Scheduling: After knowing what each worker may do to complete the project, the next aspect of time management is determining realistic timeframes for each part of the project.
Monitoring: Once the project is underway, the project manager constantly studies each task to make sure everything is done according to schedule.
Control: Controlling the project involves making adjustments when needed to stay on schedule.
Cost management constraints
Managing a project’s cost usually means estimating and controlling pricing for aspects like labor, materials, licenses and other expenses. Some of the ways to estimate overall costs include:
Analyzing historical data: A project manager can study past projects and analyze their costs, applying findings to a current project.
Adding new variables: After considering historical data, adding updated variables can increase the estimation’s accuracy. For example, you may account for inflation during your estimates.
Researching the required resources: It’s also important to estimate the costs for labor and materials. You can research costs for each material and then multiply that by the amount of material you think the project may require.
Studying the market: Researching several vendors allows a project manager to find the best deal for each material or service. Consider searching for deals like bulk discounts.
Scope requirement constraints
The best ways to understand and communicate the scope requirements for a project include:
Agreeing on project requirements as soon as possible: Before the project begins, make sure that all stakeholders feel comfortable with the project’s scope. Document all deliverables and requirements so that expectations are clear for all team members.
Developing a system to manage changes: Develop a system to propose, review and approve any necessary changes to the project. For example, you can create a way to easily track and document project additions.
Informing all stakeholders: Make sure that everyone involved with the project understands the scope and any changes that may occur. Create an easily accessible forum to ask questions or share project concerns.