Understanding and Managing Common Project Constraints

• Project

Do you remember the last time when you were assigned a project with an unlimited budget and no deadline?

Obviously, you don’t!

Such a project does not exist. In reality, your projects are stifled by time and resource constraints. Even the most seasoned project managers struggle with constraints in project management. To manage project constraints, you must understand them first and know how to deal with them. In the next sections, we’ll take a look at the what, why, and how of project constraints and understand their effect on a team’s performance.

What are project constraints?

PMI describes project constraints as the general restrictions that limit the project or portfolio in a particular domain. For example, a cost restriction in your project means that you are limited by the budget or resources you have to implement it. Project constraints are usually interconnected so if you change one constraint, it will have an impact on the other.

How are constraints and dependencies related?

Both dependencies and constraints are an important element of any project. Projects essentially are a series of interrelated tasks that will have a priority order and relationship with each other, which will cause dependencies.

On the other hand, constraints happen when you have a set of requirements from a project, a deadline for completion, and other characteristics that put a limit on how you can approach the project. You might be limited by the technology available to you or have a lack of dedicated resources.

Simply, anything that stops or puts a limit on your implementation strategies is considered a project constraint. The most common project constraints that project managers always deal with irrespective of their industry are,

Later on, we’ll discuss each constraint and its effect in detail.

Types of project management constraints

Constraints in project management are generally divided into two major categories according to their frequency, qualitative or quantitative natures, and how well-known they are.

The iron triangle

Sometimes referred to as the triple constraints and management triangle, the iron triangle is a set of three interdependent project constraints that every manager faces. As discussed before, the three constraints are the following:

  • Scope constraints: Project scope are extremely precise and come with all the necessary information about the final project deliverable. The feature and functions identified in the scope have to be achieved in order to call any particular project a success.
  • Time constraints: Imagine you come to your office on a local subway that takes 20 minutes to reach your stop and you can’t change the way you commute. Then those 20 minutes are your time constraint. Similarly, there are several tasks in a project that have a certain processing time and there is nothing you can do to reduce it. Effective management requires you to accommodate that time while ensuring that all the required objectives are met within the given deadline.

Check out how time management in projects are done to ensure success.

  • Budget constraints: The project budget indicates the maximum amount you are allowed to spend on a particular project. It does mean the associated costs of the required materials or processes only. The budget includes vendor payments, labor costs, and even contingency funds that are only required when you are in damage control mode if things don’t go as planned.

As the project manager, you need to balance all these constraints to deliver the best results while staying within your project constraints.

Beyond the ‘iron triangle’ of project constraints

A number of books and other resources on project management show that having mastery over the triple constraints will be enough to achieve project success. However, various other project constraints will need your attention if you want to implement effective project management strategies.

Following are some of the most important project constraints beyond the management triangle:

  • Quality: There’s a modern school of project management that adds quality as one of the constraints, though it doesn’t belong in the original triple constraints. But, it’s an important factor that limits the project and impacts its measure of success.
  • Benefits: The actual reason behind the project or the particular need for the project in a specific business environment. This constraint is addressed in the business case and the project managers must ensure that their scope statement covers the primary objective of the project. If for any reason, the benefit changes due to external factors, the project is immediately halted so the business case is reevaluated.
  • Risks: You can never truly eliminate risks from your project. Sometimes you do everything right and plan for every possibility but still, your project may hit a roadblock.

Let’s take the current situation as an example. If a team was working on a project which targeted international tourists, their project would be in shambles. Without their business case, the entire project would have stopped in this pandemic. The team or manager didn’t make any mistake, yet they found themselves in an adverse situation.

  • Regulations and organizational structure: Another significant constraint project managers must deal with is the organizational structures or the regulations of their company or the country.

In addition to the constraints discussed here, multiple other constraints limit the performance of your team. As a project manager, your responsibility is to identify the possible constraints you might encounter and then come up with strategies to manage them.

How to effectively deal with project constraints?

It is important to understand that project constraints can never be eliminated and each project will have a different set of constraints. The only way to properly manage project constraints is by transparency, implementation of project management best practices, effective task management software, and maintaining control over your project.

Transparency is often considered a key factor for successfully managing project constraints. With transparency, everyone involved in the process knows about the priorities and objectives of the project. In addition to helping in managing project constraints, transparency can help project managers by enhancing the productivity of their team.

Implementing best practices and dynamic management strategies in your projects is another way of dealing with constraints and completing the project successfully. Creating a detailed work breakdown structure, measuring performance throughout the project life cycle, keeping the team members engaged, and having an effective control strategy are some of the ways that can improve your performance despite multiple constraints.

Key takeaways

Constraints are a regular and unavoidable occurrence in project management and you are expected to deliver results while dealing with them regularly. You need to understand the areas where you can compromise on either the scope, timeline, budget, or any other constraint you have identified.

Through proper preparation and being adaptable enough to respond according to the situation, you can stay on top of things and deliver exceptional results.