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What are Project Constraints and How to Manage Them

what are project constraints

Working on a project is enough of a stress on its own – a whole bunch of tasks and ideas flying all over the place. Things can get especially tiresome and stressful in projects involving larger groups of people. However, things get really complicated with numerous common project constraints that you can stumble upon along the way. Since this is always a burning topic in any profession and any project these days, we’ll do a brief guide on different types of project constraints and find the best ways to deal with them. But let’s first understand the meaning of Project Constraints. 

What are Project Constraints?

Project Constraints can be anything that restricts the team output and affect the delivery process and final output of the project. The execution of the project can be affected at different stages and it can cause issues with the process, portfolio, and program in the project. 

There are numerous project management constraints, and some have even dedicated more time to research them and create thorough lists. Here, we will deal with some of the most common ones that can pop up in all fields and professions. After all, finishing things up successfully, in time, and with limited resources is something everyone deals with many times during their careers. 

Table of Content for Quick Navigation 

1. Time Constraint

Whatever the project, there’s always going to be a certain deadline to it, determining how much time you have for the whole thing. One of the primary tasks for a project manager is to know how to estimate the total time one project will take to complete. This depends on countless factors, and it requires thorough research, as well as knowledge and experience in the given field. 

Knowing how long the project will take is one of the essential components that go into making a great project manager. Investors will always want to know when specific tasks will be completed, and you’ll need to consider all the potential delays that might happen along the way. Incorrect estimates can bring numerous additional problems to the project, especially if it involves bigger groups of people. 

Management Tip:

If you’re a less experienced project manager, the best way to go is to start digging through the past projects and look more into all the details and experiences more experienced managers had to deal with. And never be afraid to ask older colleagues outside of the team for guidance. 

Recommended Read: 10 Tips For Time Management

2. Scope Constraint

Every project has a goal to deliver a product, service, or just a specific result with desired features or functions. It’s the expected outcome of what you’re doing, and a critical constraint in every field. Along with time and cost, it’s considered to be one of the three essential project constraints.

Speaking of scope, you, as a project manager, should be able to identify whether the desired scopes are possible to achieve with given time and budget limitations. At the same time, it is also up to you to determine whether there is any way to cut time and costs with the project’s scopes. These are also some of the main traits that make a good project manager. 

3. Cost Constraint

And now we come to the third of three essential project constraints that are closely intertwined. Every project comes with its budget, and it’s up to you to determine if the costs justify the scope, whether they’re sufficient, or if they require some excessive cuts. 

Since investors are pretty sensitive about their investments, specific points need to be researched. You’ll need to estimate the costs of all the goods, materials, and services that are required for the project to be finished successfully and in the given period. Depending on the type of project and the work environment, the hourly costs of all the workers involved should be calculated as well. 

Management Tip:

Also to be taken into consideration are all the successful projects from the past. It’s always good to dig for information and see whether your costs match successful projects done in recent years. If something’s way off, you’ll need to run through every single cost again, from start to finish, and come up with new estimates before it’s too late to deal with the damages. 

4. Quality Constraint

Closely related to the three constraints described above is quality. With the given funds, time, and goals, you should be able to determine the overall quality of the product or the service you’re working on. Each of the potential changes in these three factors can tip the balance and make an impact on quality.

For instance, sudden cuts in costs are not uncommon, and there should be complete restructuring and reorganization done to save the project and still deliver desired scopes in time. If it’s determined that this is not possible, well-supported arguments should be provided to explain potential damages to the project. 

Management Tip:

There will always be certain expectations on the market. Managers should always be ready to make reliable evaluations at the very beginning of a project. They should also be able to determine how and whether any changes along the way will potentially reduce the qualities and damage the results in the end. 

5. Resources Constraint

Resources are the type of project constraints closely related to the cost, and some even put them into the same category. It includes all the possible materials, services, and work hours focused on the project.

Sometimes, this can be a significant restraint to the entire project. Despite the provided budget, there are specific resources that just can’t be acquired and added to the project. Project managers are here to set things straight and find suitable solutions to get things done on time and within the desired scope. It can either be a specific material that’s impossible to acquire in time or an additional workforce that cannot be provided within the budget or time restraints.

Management Tip:

Plan B comes to the rescue when the resources of a project don’t turn out as planned. Having a plan B ready refers to proactive resource management wherein you are able to assess the shortcomings in resource allocation, management, and performance. Back up resources and finances if planned well in advance, ensure that the project is completed smoothly despite any disruptions. 

6. Risks Constraint

Just like with anything you do in life, there will always be some risks involved in the process. Before setting out to start all the work on the project, estimates of potential risks should be done in time. This way, managers and the entire team are able to deal with if something goes wrong. And things almost always go wrong. It’s better to be prepared than to try and figure out all the solutions when they occur. 

Management Tip: Constraint

There are many foreseeable risks that can be dealt with in time. Backup solutions are always welcome for any of the potential weak spots in the chain. For instance, those in charge of transport to a particular location might stumble upon issues last minute, so a backup solution should always be available if you need to meet the desired deadline. 

7. Organizational Structure Constraint

Even smaller teams for any size of projects need their own organizational structure and a hierarchy. And just imagine how complicated things can get with larger companies and large projects involving many different people. It depends on the type of work that you’re doing, but every component of the team – whether an individual or a group dedicated to a specific thing – should know who they’re responding to and what their responsibilities are. 

Management Tip: 

Look at it as some sort of a game or a match where each team member should have their well-defined role. A poorly defined organizational structure can easily lead to chaos, and even lead to the project’s collapse. 

8. Benefits Constraint

The projected benefits, or the project’s value, should be thoroughly defined at the very start of the planning. This way, you’re supposed to justify the whole work and all the costs involved in the project. 

Management Tip

Of course, you’ll be able to know more about this when the project is completed. But a good project manager should be able to make reliable estimates about overall benefits at the beginning, before going into unnecessary costs.  


No matter how experienced or educated the manager and the whole team are, there is simply no way to determine every single aspect of the project that you’re working on. There’s always going to be something that you’ll have to deal with right there on the spot. However, defining the rules and working on restraints before starting all the work is essential for any project. Otherwise, the chances of success are slim.


A few frequently asked questions regarding this topic are discussed below:

Q. What is an example of a constraint?

Things might not always be clear, and you might even wonder – what are project constraints in the first place?

To explain this, here’s an example: there was a change in plans, and the project’s deadline is moved two weeks earlier than expected. You’re supposed to have enough backup resources ready – workers, transportation, materials – to deal with these sudden changes of plans and get things done in time. Here we have risk, time, and resources as examples.

Q. What is usually the most important project constraint?

Every project constraint is important, and it would depend on the type of field that you’re working in. However, many define time, scope, and cost as three main constraints.

Q. What are the common constraints?

Each of the described project constraints described above is common. The ones that you’ll have to deal with the most are time, cost, scope, and quality.

Q. What do you mean by constraints?

Project management constraints are any factors that dictate or restrict the actions of a team working on a certain project. This management principle was first defined and established in the mid-20th century. 

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About the author

David is a Project Management expert. He has been published in elearningindustry.com, simpleprogrammer.com. As a project planning and execution expert at ProProfs, he has offered a unique outlook on improving workflows and team efficiency. Connect with David for more engaging conversations on Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook.