How to Define Constraints in Project Management
Project constraints are certain things that restrict your project and affect how you manage it. Unfortunately, these constraints are an inevitable part of any project and even though you can discover and categorise them, you can’t ignore them.

So why is it important to define and identify a project’s constraints before you get started? Think of what could happen if you failed to do this at the project planning stage. For example, time is one of the most important constraints in project management – if you take up the project without giving due attention to this limitation, it could have drastic repercussions. Not only could you get stuck for want of adequate planning, but you might even have to scrap the project midway.

Frustrated Businessman

To help you avoid making this mistake and get the most out of your future projects, here is a brief guide on how to define constraints in project management.

1) Resources

Identify the type of resources you will need for your project and the amount of each that is needed. Funds, human resources, raw materials, equipment, information, and infrastructure are all considered resources. Identify which of these are crucial to your project and whether the resource is available in abundance or is scarce.

For example, let’s say you have a budget of £50,000. Identify all the limitations of this constraint; all that you can manage; things you may have to give up. You will have to create a balance and fit other resources to make the most of this constraint.


2) Time

Time is one of the most common constraints of any project. When you need to achieve a certain milestone by a certain date, you will have to evaluate and determine whether this is achievable first. For instance, let’s say your project has to be delivered within two weeks. You don’t know whether this is achievable, you just know you need to deliver results in this time period. Estimate the time you will require to understand the impact of the time limit on your project. You can read more about time as a constraint on the Bright Hub PM website.

3) Scope

Scope is the end result, the ultimate goal of your project. What is the expected end result? For example, the new product should not cost more than £100 apiece. The new software must have certain features. The new book must be no less than 200 pages. Identify the scope of the project clearly in order to unravel the remaining pieces of the puzzle. If you need some ideas on how to get started, Totally Communications have a more detailed guide on their blog.

Other major constraints

In addition to the 3 most important constraints above, there are some other factors that may affect your project. These factors could be:
  • The executive management team lacks commitment
  • Company re-organisation during the course of the project
  • The stakeholders have unrealistic expectations about the project outcome
  • Poor communication within the team
  • Unfavourable business or economic conditions

The most important thing about these constraints is that they are inter-dependent. They are parts of a puzzle, and even if one piece goes missing, your project will be incomplete. The project’s constraints directly affect the quality of the outcome, so the quality of your project depends on how well you manage these constraints.

Puzzle Piece

For example, how can you ensure delivery in a short time-span without compromising the quality of your work? What if you can only hire two people, instead of the required three, with the budget you have? How would that affect the project?

Each constraint is linked to the others and if you change any of them, the others will change too. For instance, when you reduce the budget of your project, it may lengthen the schedule of your project or it may affect the scope itself.

The one thing that can make your life easier is to be specific when defining project constraints. For example, “We want to finish this project as soon as possible” is a vague definition. A better way to define this would be to say “Let’s finish this project on or before 30th September”.

If you need some additional guidance with dealing with project constraints, Activia has a great variety of project management courses that could help you. Click here to find out more and see what topics we cover.

Do you have any other useful tips on how best to define constraints in project management? Let us know in the comments below!