Project constraints are limitations that are inherent in your project, such as time, resources or available technology. They have a large impact on how a project is managed and how its pathway for success is delineated. A project manager needs to be highly aware of all the constraints affecting their project and how to find the optimum balance while negotiating them. First of all however, a PM needs to be able to recognise the project constraints that they are facing.
How to identify basic project constraints
The most basic constraints of any project are known as the “Iron Triangle” of project limitations, these are:
- Time: The expected delivery date for the project.
- Scope: The expected outcomes of the project.
- Budget: The amount of money that the project has been given.
These factors are all interdependent and can be said to affect the quality of the outcomes of a project. In project management the common suggestion is that you can have two, but not all three, i.e. it can be cheap and fast but of limited scope or it can be fast with a larger scope but will cost more money.
For a project manager to recognise these three basic constraints is relatively simple, they should all be laid out in the initial project planning phase. It is vital for a PM to understand these constraints and to achieve absolute clarity on the limitations which their project will be confronted by. Outside of this basic Iron Triangle of project constraints, however, lie many other limitations which can be more difficult to identify.
How to discover subtler project constraints
Every project faces a large number of constraints which may not always be so obvious, nevertheless they can have a major impact on your project’s chances of success and a PM needs to know how to navigate them. These can include:
- Risk: This can be ascertained by drawing up a risk management plan which outlines the risks facing the project and what can be done to address risks if they do occur. As a project constraint, risk is one of the biggest decision-making factors that need to be considered both before and during a project.
- Sustainability: Depending on your organization’s sustainable commitments, the usage of certain practices, products or vendors can be considerably limited. When considering project restraints, it is important to ascertain the project or organization’s stance on sustainability.
- Structure: Within each organization the reporting structure or management hierarchy is an important constraint. You can measure its possible effects by outlining the request approval process and measuring how easy or difficult it is.
- Size: This restraint can refer to either the physical size of the space available or of the company. Size is a constraint because scaling up can be a difficult and painful process which doesn’t compute evenly (e.g. twice as much product does not mean exactly twice as many inputs).
- Customer Base: As much as a project might be successful, there are limits to that success. For example, if the project is to get new leads for a real estate firm in Akron, Ohio, the success of that project is limited by the amount of possible people in Akron, Ohio.
- Methodology: The particular project management methodology being used can also be a limitation. This is because different methodologies require specific skills or technology which can be difficult to obtain.