As much as we would like to think that we are free and clear to run our project and determine its outcome….the reality is that is not true. Every project – really no matter what the type of project, what industry the project is in, and what level or type of technology is utilized in the solution – has three major constraints. These are always going to be budget, time, and quality. There really is no way to avoid these.
I have never seen any project manager blessed with an unlimited budget. Likewise, I have never heard of or witnessed a project customer say, “Take as long as you want with this project.” It just doesn’t happen. And quality…well…I think we all understand that one. The end solution needs to work…needs to solve a problem or need. Otherwise, it isn’t really a successfully completed project…it’s just work that was done and time that was wasted.
What are the constraints of a project?
Constraints are anything that either restricts the actions of the project team or dictates the actions of the project team. Constraints put you in a box. As a project manager, you have to manage to the project constraints, which sometimes requires creativity. Like most disciplines, project management can often be as much art as it is science. As much creative as it is process-driven.
Budget is always going to be one of the key project constraints…no question. Budgets limit the project team’s ability to obtain resources and might potentially limit the scope of the project. For example, component X cannot be part of this project because the budget doesn’t support it. The customer usually has only so much they can spend on the project. Likewise, work can only be done by the delivery organization for a certain price…it can only be done so cheap. At some point it wouldn’t worth doing.
Time is another key project constraint. This usually comes in the form of an enforced deadline, commonly known as the “make it happen now” scenario. If you are in charge of the company’s project manager retreat scheduled for June 15th, your project is time constrained. Once the airline and hotel reservations have been made and work has been set aside, you can’t move the date. You can’t just go into your project scheduling software and move the tasks further out. It just doesn’t work that way. It’s set in stone now – all activities on this project are driven by the due date and the projects that your project managers are running rely on this date to be met.
Quality would typically be restricted by the specifications of the product or service. Most of the time, if quality is a constraint, one of the other constraints – time or budget – has to have some give. You can’t produce high quality on a restricted budget and within a tightly restricted time schedule. Of course, there are exceptions, but usually not in reality – just in the movies.
Schedule constraints can cause interesting dilemmas for the project manager. For example, let’s assume you are the project manager in charge of rolling out a new customer relationship management system (CRM). If end users aren’t available to help with requirements definition and then later to perform user acceptance testing, then you won’t be able to meet your schedule deadlines. So resource availability is definitely a constraint.
Technology can also be a major project constraint. For example, your project might require the use of leading-edge technology that is still so new it’s not been released on a wide-scale basis. One impact might be that the project will take an additional six months because existing technologies need to be used instead of the new technology.
What’s happening in your organization and with your executive management can also be a project constraint. They can change direction, change priorities, and change funding depending on what they think is best for the organization at any given time…and it can impact your project or projects.
As we have always known, our projects are constantly being affected by outside influences and issues. What we have discussed here are some key constraints that can affect our projects. What other constraints can you think of – or have you experienced – that have affected your projects and your ability to successfully manage those projects?