Managing constraints project management

Managing the constraints

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The biggest strength of a person in charge of project management is the ability to communicate effectively. This is important even when the message may not be that welcome.

I say this because I see too many project plans presented that are set up to fail even before they start.

This may partly be because the project manager, PMO, or the team don’t have the sufficient skills and experience to plan the project properly.

However, all too often the company leadership drives this by setting unrealistic constraints to deliver the project.

Which constraints are unrealistic in project management?

There are many unrealistic constraints, but the most common are the ones that ask to deliver a project on “X” date because…

  • We don’t want to renew the old software
  • It’s part of a bigger plan and the next phase starts on that date
  • It’s quarter-end, year-end
  • It avoids the busy season
  • It’s vital for our business
  • And so on

These constraints in themselves are not a problem as long as the other project constraints are flexible. However, all too often PM’s are asked to deliver projects at a fixed cost, by a certain date, to a certain quality to a fixed scope with limited resources.

Sounds reasonable, right?


The project fails and everyone is scratching their heads wondering why. The project obviously was doomed to fail because the PM didn’t raise their hand and explain the fundamentals.

6 constraints to manage a project effectively

Project management is actually a simple discipline made complicated by people. You actually “just” need to manage the 6 constraints to plan and manage a project effectively.

  • Time – When it needs to be delivered
  • Cost – What is your budget
  • Scope – The details of what needs to be delivered
  • Resources – Who and what you need to deliver it
  • Risks – Often overlooked or unaddressed
  • Quality – Something that works quick vs the perfect delivery later

If time and cost are fixed, then you have to be flexible with either quality and scope and so on…

I understand that this is not so easy to communicate in practice. There are things like company politics, deadlines budgets, organization culture that come into play, BUT the truth is that nobody wants their projects to fail, least of all the project manager.

The best project managers are those who will clearly articulate the likelihood of success of the project and work with the business to manage the constraints and deliver a plan that works.

If that is not possible then the recommendation must be not to do the project at all.

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