“Fast, Cheap, And Good" - Effective Solutions For Project Management Constraints

Updated on :June 14, 2024
By :Erik Watson

“Fast, Cheap, and Good… pick two. If it’s Fast and Cheap, it won’t be Good; If it’s Cheap and Good, it won’t be Fast. If it’s Fast and Good, it won’t be Cheap. So pick two to live by.”

               -Jim Jarmusch

The above quote surmises a dilemma that every person has gone through at least once in their professional life. In the corporate world where competition is cutthroat and innovations are taking place at breakneck speed, project managers have to constantly strive to fill the gap between demand and supply. 

The world of software development is quite intense and fast-paced. Like every other field, in software development, the most common challenge faced by project managers to successfully develop and deliver a software are project constraints. Project constraints pose a great risk to the success of a project and are most likely to endanger a project if not dealt with on time. 

What are Project Constraints?

Project constraints are variables that limit or endanger the scope of a project. These are limitations that project managers need to be mindful of while planning and strategizing the scope of their project. 

A simple example of a project constraint related to time could be deadlines; being unable to complete a project during a given timeframe because it is unsuitable for the project type is a classic example of Time constraint. 

Let’s assume you are an employee in an IT company and have been assigned to work on a mock presentation for a project that your team is currently working on. The presentation is on Friday morning but the project details were provided to you at the end of your Thursday shift. Will you be able to deliver the presentation in time without flouting the deadline?

It is due to such constraints that planning a project becomes much trickier than one might imagine. Preparing for unexpected and unforeseen events during a software development project tests the management, decision making, and problem solving skills in a manager. 

Therefore, to successfully plan, implement, and deliver a software development project, as a project manager and stakeholder, one needs to familiarize themselves with the most common project constraints and how to deal with them. 

Understanding The 6 Main Project Constraints

If you must ask the question, how many project constraints are there? Some experts believe that there are upto 19 project constraints that can adversely impact your project. However, most project constraints can broadly be categorized into the 6 main constraints which are Time, Cost, Scope, Quality, Resources, and Risks. 
Out of these 6 constraints, the 3 major constraints that have the most influence on other constraints are Time, Cost, and Scope. These 3 constraints are commonly referred to as the Iron Triangle, or the Triple Constraint Triangle.

Project management constraints - Triple constraint triangle

1. Time Constraint in Project Management

Time constraint refers to the final delivery date of a project as well as the different deadlines that each phase of the project must meet. Every project is divided into various smaller phases which have either simultaneous or dependent deadlines that the assigned team members must meet in order to commence the next stage of the project. 

Estimating how long each stage should take and then calculating the final delivery date of the project based on that is one of the biggest challenges that a project manager faces. Time is tricky to predict as schedules can be easily disrupted due to any number of factors that may lead to an ultimate delay in the delivery of the project. 

To counter this, project managers rely on different methodologies while preparing the project plan such as Gantt chart, Critical path analysis, etc. They also outline expected project constraints and contingency plans in their project charter to avoid any delays in the schedule. 

Smart Tip: Plan your project schedule along with a feasible timeline for each phase and constantly monitor your progress with your project calendar. 

2. Scope Constraint in Project Management

The scope of a project refers to all the tasks that fall under the purview of the project. It clearly defines what the project will or will not include. It is usually the first thing that is discussed when a project is introduced.

Project management constraints - Project scope template

The scope covers all the deliverables that are expected from the project as well as their quality. If the scope of the project grows then the cost of the project and the time it will take to deliver the project will also increase accordingly. 

For example: Let’s assume you are a software development company in the UK, if your project is to create a software for accounting, then your project scope would include the goal of the accounting software, the features to be included in the software,the date when it will go live, etc.  

The scope of the project provides a clarity to the stakeholders about the project deliverables. The scope constraint arises when the deliverables of the project are changed or modified. It is often referred to as the scope creep and is preventable if everything is documented well. 

Smart Tip: Thoroughly document all the project deliverables that are expected. This includes all the features, or changes requested to avoid miscommunication and monitor the project calendar. 

3. Cost Constraint in Project Management

The budget of the project includes all the financial expenses that are expected to be incurred while working and developing the project. It includes the cost of labour, tax, material, resources, outsourcing, etc. The cost constraint basically covers anything that has a financial expense in the project. 

The cost of the project is usually approximated after the scope of the project is determined. The cost constraint deals with any unexpected financial expenses that arise and derail the budget of the project. This causes the project managers to cut corners in some phases of the project and settle with tradeoffs. 

For example: If you reduce the time of the project without adjusting the scope, you will need more money to hire a more expansive team to finish the project on time. 

If you reduce the scope of the project, you will have to pay less for lesser features on your software project. It will also be delivered within a shorter timeframe than before. 

Without cutting any edges, you will need to invest a good amount of money in the project to receive high-quality end results. 

Smart Tip: Use historical data to estimate the cost of your project after adjusting it according to the current inflation rate. 

4. Quality Constraint in Project Management

The quality of a product, whether it is hardware or software, can be measured both technically and by its business worth. It can be easily ascertained by checking whether your project meets its initial expectation or not. 

The thing about quality constraint is that it can be quite independent of the other constraints. An issue in the quality of the software can also be a result of factors such as lack of communication between the stakeholders, team members, and project manager or poor skills, or too many modifications from the original scope. 

Apart from that, the quality of the project does depend heavily on the time, scope, and cost allocated to the project. 

For example: If you reduce the cost of the project but not the scope, you will get a lower quality product. Similarly, if you shorten the delivery time of the project without adding monetary resources, the developers will have to cut corners to meet the deadlines and you will have to settle with a low quality product. 

Smart Tip: Communicate the importance of quality to your stakeholders and explain to them the dependency of cost, time,and scope in relation to the quality so sufficient adjustments can be made. 

5. Resource Constraint in Project Management

The resource constraints are closely related to the cost constraints. It is common knowledge that if you want good resources you need to loosen your money pouch. Without proper investment, you cannot acquire good resources and consequently cannot allocate them to the phases of the project that require them.

The project resources include equipment, hardware, software, facilities, human resources, etc that are required to complete the project. Comprising the resources will result in a sub-standard quality of the project. 

For example: You need to make an iOS app for your software but you only hired an Android application developer to cut the human resources cost. The developer might be able to develop an iOS app but it might be full of bugs and not good enough to roll out to the public, thus resulting in loss of revenue due to missing out on the iPhone user market. 

Smart Tip: Resources are allocated after the project planning phase, use a resource management plan to allocate resources for every element of the project properly, 

6. Risks Constraint in Project Management

Just like business, every project also contains risks. While the connotation with risks is usually negative, there are some risks that can be beneficial to your project. 

For example: Let’s assume you have to create an app using Java and a new technology is launched a few days later that can help you reach your project goals faster and deliver the app project before the delivery date. Then it’s a positive step, a positive risk. 

Every phase of the project has some type of risks that it is vulnerable to. Sometimes the risks are totally external to the project such as a change in the economic market, like a recession, that is completely out of control of the project manager and other stakeholders. Sometimes the risks are small, like a team member falling sick on the due date of a project phase leading to delay in schedule.

A project manager should always have contingency plans to tackle manageable risks, like having another team member as a backup for the presentation schedule, like an understudy. Most risks can be mitigated by a project manager with good problem solving skills. 

Smart Tip: Always have buffers for deadlines and continuously monitor the market and make product modifications in accordance with the changing market conditions. 

In addition to these major 6 constraints, there might be some smaller project constraints that you may face depending on the project. These usually include business constraints, legal issues, design constraints, etc. 

Although every project is different and expected to have some form of project constraint, the project managers should not treat these constraints lightly. If gone unmanaged, these project constraints can considerably damage the overall project. 

Impact Of Unmanaged Project Constraints

Project management constraints - Impact of project constraints

1. Budget Overruns - If you keep missing deadlines while completing the different stages of the project, it is inevitable that you will ultimately end up delaying the final delivery date of the project. The longer a project is delayed the costlier it gets. And if there are more continuous delays, it might be possible that the technology in the project becomes obsolete.

2. Delays in Schedule and Missed Deadlines - As mentioned, delay in project schedules due to any reason whether it is the uneven workload, or frequent changes in the scope of the project, will result in missed deadlines. This is a slippery slope and can be very damaging to the face of the business if it persists in the long-term.

3. Compromised Quality of Work - In order to meet the deadlines and deliver the project at lower costs, the quality of the product will end up being compromised. There is no space for sub-standard products in any industry and ultimately it will end up being a loss making venture for the company or clients. 

4. Bad Reputation For Company/ Brand - Most businesses function due to their reputation. To a business, their brand reputation is a key factor in their success and growth, a tarnished reputation due to low quality product, or delayed product delivery will hinder future business prospects for the company. 

5. Project Failure - The most terrifying impact of project constraints is when a project fails. It not only disheartens the clients and the company but also the employees who worked hard to develop it.

Keeping in mind the impact of project constraints if and when managed poorly, the project managers would be feeling burdened by the responsibilities that lie on their shoulders. However, when paired with the project management tools and softwares available today to assist the project managers in keeping in line with all their deadlines and other requirements for the projects, only a few things remain to be kept in mind. 

In addition to seeking assistance from world-class project management tools, software project managers can go a step further by following these strategies while dealing with project constraints. 

Effective Strategies For Project Constraints

These are some basic project management strategies work like magic when it comes to dealing with project constraints: 

1. Understanding and Awareness of Constraints 

Since we have already read about the major project constraints that project managers can encounter during their software development projects, we can check this one out of the box. 

It is always essential to know and understand what you are going to be dealing with in advance so that you can prepare for it accordingly. Once you know and understand what are your project constraints, you can plan your project around them and develop contingency plans.

2. Planning and Strategizing 

Your project plan should always include strategies that deal with the most common and important triple constraints of time, cost, and scope. Since they are most likely to occur in every project, you should plan basic strategies for them before moving onto other project constraints that could likely affect your project.

3. Quality Control Checks

There should be timely audits and quality control checks that your project should pass for quality assurance purposes. This will ensure that you do not stray from the promised quality of software product and can catch any bugs or tech issues in time. This can also prevent scope creep. 

4. Risk Management

You should conduct a risk analysis to assess any potential risks that your project can potentially encounter and make plans for it. Identifying, assessing, and planning for proper risk mitigation is a great method for risk management. 

5. Open Communication and Flexibility

Last but not least and one of the most important qualities in a manager, being open to communication and embracing flexibility. Learn to communicate with your team members so you know what they are dealing with and provide assistance accordingly for smooth function of the project life cycle. 

Being flexible will help you see a fresh perspective as there might be times when you need to compromise on certain aspects of the project for the big picture or scope. You need to be that bridge of communication between the customers and the stakeholders.

Project management constraints

Conclusion

Project management is a balancing act. You must learn to balance all the 6 major project constraints successfully in order to deliver the best results through your project. Constraints, whether they are internal or external, are a natural part of every project and learning to deal with them is a rite of passage for project managers towards the road of success. 

Erik Watson
Erik Watson

Erik Watson, a content crafter at GoodFirms who intends to share his outlook on the fast-paced tech industry and all the new and exciting global trends with the audience through his writing. A writer by day and an avid reader by night, Erik enjoys exploring different genres that help him grow as a writer and an individual. 

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