Project constraints are the general limitations of a project, including time, costs, and risks. Understanding project constraints is important because they affect project performance. In this piece, we’ll discuss project constraints in detail and explain how to manage them.
Have you ever been to the circus and watched the performers do a balancing act? They somehow manage to hold multiple plates up in the air so gracefully that it feels like they must be using magic. But balancing doesn’t require magic—just focus and skill. If a performer were to misplace their hold on a single plate, all the plates would come crashing down.
Like a circus performance, project management is a balancing act. During the project life cycle, you’ll encounter various constraints, including time, costs, and risks. Part of your job as an effective project manager is learning how to balance these constraints in order to increase project performance. In this piece, we’ll discuss project constraints in detail and explain how to manage them.
Project constraints are the general limitations that you need to account for during the project life cycle. For example, a cost constraint means that you’re limited to a specific project budget, while a time constraint means you must complete your project within a specified timeframe.
Most project constraints impact one another, which is why constraint management is crucial for project success. If you decide that you must expand the project timeline, then you’ll likely need more money to complete the project as well. Your project scope will also expand when the time and cost of your project expand.
There are six common project constraints to consider as you make your way through the phases of project management. In this article, we’ll go through each constraint in detail and explain how you can manage it. No matter what type of project you’re working on, using project management software can help you visualize your project schedule and manage all of your project constraints in one place.See Asana in action
The triple constraints of project management—also known as the project management triangle or the iron triangle—are scope, cost, and time. You’ll need to balance these three elements in every project, and doing so can be challenging because they all affect one another.
There are trade-offs when balancing scope, cost, and time, and you must decide what you’re willing to sacrifice in order to maintain project alignment and functionality.
For example, your project can only stay within scope if your project’s budget and time allotments stay steady. If you want to finish the project in less time, your scope must also decrease to balance out the project unless you’re able to make adjustments to the budget.
Project scope refers to a project’s magnitude in terms of quality, detail, and deliverables. Time and money are dependencies of project scope, because as the project scope grows, the project will require more time and money to complete.
You’ll need to be aware of scope creep throughout each project phase and work hard to prevent it. You can prevent scope creep by creating detailed project plans and getting project stakeholders to sign off on everything before production begins.
Cost constraints include the project budget as a whole and anything of financial value required for your project. Items that may be a cost constraint include:
Team member salaries
Cost of equipment
Cost of facilities
Include any items in this section that require you to pull from your company’s financial resources.Read: Your guide to getting started with resource management
Time management is essential for project success, and there are various time constraints you’ll face during each phase of your project. When you try to increase your project timeline, there will be consequences like extended deadlines, adjustments to the team calendar, or less time for planning.
Time elements in your project that can lead to constraints may include:
Overall project timeline
Hours worked on project
Internal calendars and goalposts
Time allotted for planning and strategy
Number of project phases
Scope, cost, and time are called the iron triangle because these three constraints can be difficult to maneuver around each other while maintaining project quality. For example, if you cut your budget or increase your scope, you’ll likely need to compensate by loosening up on time. You can do this by extending deadlines, adding hours, or adjusting your project schedule.
While scope, cost, and time are the triple constraints of project management, there are three other project constraints you may encounter in your project life cycle: risk, resources, and quality.
Project risks are any unexpected occurrences that can affect your project. While most project risks are negative, some can be positive. For example, a new technology may be released while your project is in progress. This technology may help you finish your project quicker or it may cause more competition in the market and reduce your product value.
You can determine project risks using risk analysis and risk management strategies to keep them at bay. Some risks you may face include:
Lack of clarity
Use a risk register to assess the likelihood and severity for each project risk, then mitigate the most likely and severe risks first.
Resources tie closely with cost constraints on your project because these project requirements cost money. Without proper resource allocation, can experience lower project quality, an increased budget, and timeline delays.
Some resources to consider include:
Equipment or materials
Use a resource management plan to ensure you have the resources you need for every element of your project so that this constraint doesn’t negatively affect other project areas.
Project quality is the measure of how well your project deliverables meet initial expectations. Every project constraint affects project quality because project quality is the ultimate result of your project. However, project quality is also its own constraint because there are aspects of the project that can result in poor quality that aren’t necessarily related to cost, time, resources, risk, or scope. These include:
Lack of communication
Poor design or development skills
Too many project changes
You must manage project quality as its own entity while also balancing the other five project constraints if you hope to achieve high project performance. If you fail to manage your constraints, the result can be low project quality and low customer satisfaction.
There are strategies you can use to manage and balance project constraints as they arise. Using project management methodologies like the PMBOK Guide’s phases of project management and Agile practices, which encourage flexibility and collaboration, are a few ways to control project constraints.See Asana in action
You can also use the following tips to strengthen your project management plan:
Understand your constraints: You can’t manage your project constraints unless you understand what they are. Once you know your project constraints, you can plan around them. For example, during project planning, assess what risks you might face as well as what resources you’ll need and what those resources will cost.
Plan and strategize: When you consider all six of the most common constraints in your project plan, you can move forward with a better perspective for what’s ahead. Your project plan should include strategies to mitigate constraints and balance the triple constraints of scope, cost, and time. You can also implement strategies to address additional project constraints , like trying to prevent project risks from occurring.
Control project quality: You can control project quality by regularly monitoring your project plan and processes. As your team handles various tasks throughout project execution, use work management software to ensure everyone is staying on track. Establish a change control process so that if changes occur, you can prevent scope creep.
Manage risk: Use risk analysis to identify, assess, and prepare for potential project risks. With a strong risk management plan in place, you can keep the most damaging project risks at bay and prepare for any unexpected risks that may occur.
Communicate effectively: Team communication is essential for successful management of project constraints. Without strong communication, you may think you’re balancing your constraints while another team member is unknowingly disrupting your hard work. When you discuss every aspect of the project with your team, you can work together to reach project goals.
Embrace flexibility: You must embrace flexibility in order to effectively balance project constraints. There will be times when you’ll need to compromise on project elements in order to stay within scope. If you aren’t flexible, you’ll end up sacrificing project quality. Keeping your customers or stakeholders satisfied should be your top priority, which means accepting trade-offs when necessary.
Keep track of your project constraints through every phase of the project life cycle in order to ensure the project quality meets stakeholder expectations. When you encounter a situation where you must adjust one project constraint, like the project schedule, consider how that will affect other project areas—like cost and scope—and balance your constraints as necessary.
Project management software can help you visualize project constraints in real time. When you need an efficient way to control elements of your project and share the information with others, the various tools available within a project management system like Asana make it easy.See Asana in action