What are Project Constraints?


Do you know what the difference between Project Constraints, Assumptions and Dependencies is?

I have written a small series of posts to describe Project Constraints, Project Assumptions and Project Dependencies. Although these terms look simple but sometimes they are confusing in practice. This post is written to describe Project Constraints. You should be able to understand the difference between these terms after reading all 3 posts. These three terms have immense utility in Project Management if they are used appropriately.

What are Project Assumptions

What are Project Dependencies?

What is a Project Constraint?

According to PMBOK® Guide, Project Constraint is “A limiting factor that affects the execution of a project, program, portfolio or a process”.

Another definition could be “Project Constraints are restrictions imposed by Stakeholders or Environment that limits Project Team’s options”.

You can also look at Max Wideman’s Glossary for the definition of Project Constraints.

According to PMBOK® Guide, Project Management involves balancing the Competing Project Constraints. These include, but are not limited to:

  • Scope – e.g. work as defined in Contract
  • Schedule – e.g. Customer imposed completion dates
  • Budget – Sponsor imposed funding limits
  • Quality – e.g. conformance to a Quality Model such as CMMI
  • Resources – e.g. unavailability of skilled & competent Human Resources
  • Risks – e.g. threats due to natural calamities

Project Constraints simply mean that, Project Teams always work under some limitations and restrictions. Project Management involves balancing these limitations for successful completion of Project. In ideal conditions (when there are no Project Constraints), a Project Manager may have unlimited options but in practice the Project Manager must find ways to work within known limitations. Project Manager, along with the Team, creates a Project Plan while considering and balancing known Project Constraints.

Are there any other Project Constraints (other than the six mentioned above)?

Yes. There could be other type of Constraints like Organizational Constraints, Environmental Constraints, Procurement Constraints etc.

Let’s understand the concept of Project Constraints through the same example that I used in Project Assumptions post.
Situation – PM requires an Approval on Design Artifacts from the Customer during the course of the project. Project cannot move ahead without this Approval.

Project Constraint – “Project Team has a limitation. Project cannot move ahead without Customer Approval.”

PM may “Assume” that the Approval may come within 2 weeks. But unless and until the Approval comes, PM cannot move ahead. She/he will have to wait for the Approval even if it is delayed.
Let us talk about few key points regarding Project Constraints.

  • Project Constraints are, sometimes, related to each other and hence Project Management involves Balancing Competing Project Constraints. e.g. a Schedule Constraint might force Project Team to compromise Quality
  • Project Constraints could be imposed by Stakeholders like Customers
  • Project Constraints could be present in the Environment e.g. Labor Laws of a State or Country.
  • Discovery of new Project Constraints can lead to modification of Project Plan.
  • Project Constraints should be well Documented and well Communicated. Poor Communication of Project Constraints can, sometimes, lead to Project Failure.
  • Project Constraints are part of all formal Project Documents but preferably they should be Documented in a separate Project Constraints Log.

But, I still cannot fully understand how Project Constraints are different from Project Assumptions and Project Dependencies?

You will have to read my posts on Project Assumptions and Project Dependencies to understand the difference.

You should also refer to my other articles on difference between similar Project Management Terms.

Praveen Malik, PMP

​Praveen Malik ​is a certified Project Management Professional (PMP®) with a rich 23+ years of experience. He is a leading Project Management Instructor, Coach and ​Advisor. He ​has successfully trained thousands of aspirants for the PM certification exams.

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