Project management is a balancing act between teammate bandwidths, employer resources, and external stakeholder expectations. To achieve this balance, you must plan for each project constraint — including the unexpected ones.

You might decide to have backup freelancers in case a teammate’s sick, or generate a tad more funding than you need to cover surprise costs. Playing the “What if?” game with your team to consider every constraint ensures you’re set for success.

What are project constraints?

Project constraints are the limitations that affect task execution and deliverables, whether that’s finances, personnel, or time. If you’re limited to completing a project in two months, this might affect the number of deliverables you can provide. And if your employer has capped your budget, you might need to streamline online tool subscriptions to reduce your spending.

The triple constraints of project management

The iron triangle, or project management triangle, defines the three key constraints that affect nearly every project:

  • Scope refers to the breadth of a project, including every deliverable, required resource, and the general timeline. Cost and time tie directly to scope, as neither can remain constant if the scope changes.
  • Cost is your overall project budget, including team member labor costs, technology resources, and any other financial cost. When you increase a project’s timeline and scope, cost typically increases.
  • Time is your overall project timeline, from start to final delivery. When this increases, scope and cost likely do, too.

Other relevant project constraints

Scope, time, and cost are general constraints that cover the following limitations:

  • Risks aren’t always visible from the outset of your project but can be detrimental to its success. These could be anything from losing valuable resources to unexpected cost reductions and changing technology requirements. Project managers will likely conduct a risk analysis at the project’s start to pinpoint and plan for threats.
  • Quality comes with delivering a solid project that meets every expectation. But along the way, some deliverables might not be up to par. This happens when a severe lack of communication punctuates constant scope changes. When teams aren't talking to each other, quality suffers.
  • Resource constraints directly relate to cost because people and technology aren’t free. And resource allocation is integral to maintaining not only your budget but the quality of your project. Without the right resources — like employee expertise, office space, and equipment — you end up with low-quality output that took too long to complete.
  • Benefits are constraints that external stakeholders, like clients and end users, put onto a project, because your work must offer them certain benefits. You can create a value stream map to determine customer value points and how to deliver them.

How to manage project constraints: 6 tips

Your initiative will determine your constraints, so the best way to achieve success is to create a project plan. Then, you can perfect your balancing skills by practicing these six tips.

1. Know thy enemy

Unaddressed project management constraints can ruin a project. As you tackle project planning, pay close attention to the iron triangle, examining how your scope, cost, and timeline balance out and monitoring these crucial factors throughout. To better understand these constraints, consider brainstorming potential roadblocks and solutions with relevant team members, as they might illuminate a limitation you hadn’t considered.

2. Create a plan

Once you’re intimately familiar with project constraints, strategize on ways to respect every limitation. If you know your timeline can’t budge, for example, consider how to ensure you gain client approval on deliverables as quickly as possible to avoid delays.

3. Never compromise on quality

While meeting time, budget, and scope requirements is important, none of this matters if it means you deliver a low-quality product or service. Consider implementing a quality management process that ensures your team produces a high-value output, no matter the constraints. And create deliverable visibility by hosting frequent stand-up meetings where team members can voice concerns and discuss task progress.

4. Identify risks

Constraint risks are things that force you to budge on limitations, like increasing the project timeline because employees don’t have the bandwidth to complete tasks on time. Work with your team to identify and plan for threats, using this information to create your timeline, scope, and budget boundaries. And where possible, leave some wiggle room to remain agile when handling unexpected roadblocks.

5. Prioritize effective communication

The only way to truly remain on top of all project constraints is to communicate effectively with all stakeholders. You must thoroughly understand client timeline expectations and teammate delays to create accurate project plans and prepare for every limitation.

To encourage effective communication, consider moving your team into a collaborative and central workspace, like Slack or Microsoft Teams. You might even allow external clients limited access to project-relevant docs within this platform to centralize all communications and promote expectation visibility. And outline a communication cadence at the start so teammates know when they’ll update you on task progress.

6. Remain flexible 

The key to effective balancing is knowing how to remain steady when the winds rise. Obstacles are inevitable, so create a project plan that addresses constraints while leaving room for adjustments. This agility allows you to problem-solve effectively and react strategically when issues occur.

2 project constraint examples

While your constraints might look a little different, here are a few examples to reinforce the concept.

Example 1

A software company is building a new application for the next version of a popular mobile operating system (OS). The project is nearing completion, but an announcement by the manufacturer reveals that they’ll release the new mobile OS version much sooner than initially thought. To be successful, the app must launch when the new OS does.

When scheduling resources, the company didn’t have enough programmers in place to account for a stepped-up timeline. While the project scope hasn't changed, the time constraint has suddenly shrunk. To balance this out, the development team seeks quick approval to allocate two new resources, expanding the budget.

Example 2

A car company is attempting to construct the most functional interior cabin possible for its customers. While the project already has an outstanding budget, time is starting to run out. And every customer focus group uncovers another detail the product team didn't consider. Beholden to client demands, the project team expands the scope.

To move their interior cabin designs to the manufacturing team before the next slate of cars begins the assembly process, the project manager must expand the scope and shrink the time constraint. The solution would typically be to throw resources at the project. But no matter the resources, the scope doesn't show signs of contraction due to constant feedback and feature creep. Ultimately, the manager has to decide which features to ignore to move the project forward, avoiding scope creep and meeting the time constraint.

Address every project constraint with Roadmunk by Tempo

Knowledge and effective communication are crucial to properly mitigating and managing project constraints. Use Timesheets by Tempo to gain visibility into team task work so everyone stays within time and budget constraints. And try Roadmunk by Tempo to create handy roadmaps that define timelines, milestones, and deliverables. With these tools, you'll deliver a high-quality product that respects all limitations.