Determining project constraints

project constraints

Project constraints are elements that limit the project and affect the way the project manager and their team manage it.

Unfortunately, these constraints are an inevitable part of any project and, once discovered and classified, are impossible to ignore.

If a project manager decides to take over the project and carry it on without paying adequate attention to the constraints that the constraints impose, it could have very negative repercussions.

Not only one can get stuck because of lack of proper planning, but one might even be forced to stop the project altogether.

Here is how to determine the possible constraints of a project.

The triple project constraint

If you’re a Project Manager, you’ve definitely already had to untangle this triple constraint, and to employ all your skills to stay in balance.

As you know the triple constraint is made up of 3 essential elements:

  • The cost
  • The time
  • The scope

It is just the combination between these elements and their balance that will impact on the success of the project with particular reference to its usefulness and quality.

Let’s examine these three constraints, that arise so much concern during the execution of a project.

The triple constraint of the project: Cost

The available budget for a given project will determine the use and acquisition of the necessary resources.

Human resources, raw materials, equipment, information and infrastructure are all considered resources.

The available budget therefore makes it possible to identify which of these are achievable and in what quantity.

The triple constraint of the project: Time

Time is one of the most common constraints of any project.

When it is necessary to achieve a certain milestone by a certain date, it is necessary to schedule work in order to meet this deadline.

We have already discussed how to best manage the deadlines of a project.

The triple project constraint: Application Scope

Here we refer to the final objective of the project, i.e. what is the expected result.

For example:

  • The new product must not cost more than 100€..
  • The new software must contain certain features.
  • The new book must not be shorter than 200 pages.

Define clearly the purpose – or scope – of the project allows the work to be planned accordingly.

identify project constraints

Other important constraints

Besides the well-known triple constraint, a project manager should not overlook the following possible constraints that can cause delays and problems to the project:

Lack of commitment from the management team or project sponsor

One of the key factors in successfully completing a project is the commitment of the project management team and/or sponsor.

It is difficult to run a project with this constraint because it would mean constantly struggling for support or troubleshooting, which are crucial to the successful completion of a project.

Even during the project lifecycle, the project manager must be aware of this constraint because it may arise later.

The sponsor may lose interest because other events have occurred that overshadow the priority of the project.

Breaks or company reorganizations occurring in the middle of the project

Unplanned corporate reorganization or other types of business stoppages in the middle of the lifecycle of a project can negatively impact work.

During such operations, major challenges may arise that can put the survival of the project at risk.

For example: the budget might be reduced, some human resources might be allocated to other projects, etc.

Stakeholders who have unrealistic expectations of project results

There may be times when stakeholders have unrealistic expectations regarding the outcome of the project.

Project managers could easily overcome this constraint through successful communication with stakeholders and by requesting approval of the project charter and scope statement documents.

The sooner the project manager sets up effective communication with project stakeholders and defines the schedule and deadlines, the greater the chance of delivering the project on time and within budget, satisfying all stakeholders.

Lack of skilled resources

The lack of qualified resources for a given project can be a major issue.

This constraint can have a negative impact on project start and completion dates.

In addition, low quality output may result in dissatisfaction of the final client.

Poor communication with the project team

Poor communication can even lead to the failure of a project, while strong and effective communication leads to overcoming major obstacles and challenges, increasing the chances of closing the project successfully.

Poor communication is a potential killer of a project, because it can lead to misunderstandings about the scope, activity assignments, project programs, etc.

Times or unstable business conditions

Sometimes, the instability of the economic or business situation can create different kinds of obstacles to the execution of a project.

General economic issues are known to affect the project delivery date and the quality of the work of the project team.

Advancements in technology

Technological advancements can cause delays in projects due to lack of knowledge, training needs or availability of resources with experience regarding the new technology.

However, these difficulties can be overcome and considering the long-term benefits, the adoption of new technology can allow improvements in several areas of the project.


Surely no project can be planned or managed in every single aspect and situation, but it is possible, within reasonable limits, to work and plan to achieve the highest possible predictability.

The key is to remember what the constraints of a project are, how they affect each other, and when they suggest that a change of direction is imperative.

Projects change and evolve constantly, thus requiring a balance between preparation and responsiveness.

One trick is also to change the classic view of constraints such as limitations or restrictions on a project manager’s work.

Although these certainly represent a risk to a project, constraints do not have to be negative.

Instead of thinking of project constraints as limitations or something to fight against, it is useful for a project manager to positively adapt their thinking, considering constraints as guides that can help organize the work and thus achieve long-term success.

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