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Working within your project constraints.

Working within your project constraintsProject Constraints.

Way back before PMBOK and the PMP Accreditation, the rookie project manager was told of the ‘holy triangle’; that is, to manage their project within time, cost and quality. These had to be balanced and agreed in some way – just like a formula in fact. You had to negotiate which was most important with management and the customer. They are the project constraints!

The watchword back then was “there’s no point in delivering rubbish on time and cost” inferring that quality would normally get compromised to meet the holy goals of time and cost.

And that is what happened.

When the going got tough, quality suffered. And so did the project manager!

Each project has its own project constraint demand and balance.

Fast forward to 2012, and project management has matured, thanks in great part to the Project Management Institute creating the Project Management Body Of Knowledge (PMBOK).

These days it is recognized that there are more than just 3 project constraints (and you may think of others that are unique to a particular project’s environment – safety, procedures, and regulatory to name just 3 more…

As a project manager, you must first identify and then go on to balance these competing project constraints. You will also need to get the buy-in of the key stakeholders so that they all agree on such a balance otherwise you are doomed to fail!

The PMBOK Guide suggests the following SIX project constraints:

  • Schedule (time)
  • Budget (cost)
  • Quality
  • Scope
  • Resources
  • Risk.

These should be seen as inter-relating elements such that if one changes, then AT LEAST one other will be impacted and need to be changed.

A change in any one of these project constraints will almost always affect one or more of the other constraints.  This is why it is important to prioritise and agree such constraints before producing the project management plan.  Once the project is underway and in the executing and monitoring and controlling process groups, it is important that as progress and changes are tracked, that these constraints are also managed.

A brief discussion of each of these project constraints is important:


Most projects are end-date driven and therefore this is usually the first constraint to be stated.  There are also likely to be milestone time points that need to be managed as well, for example a prototype may need to be demonstrated at a particular point in time.


This is probably the next often quoted project constraints.  If the project is for customer and they have been quoted a fixed price, then allowing for a reasonable profit margin, the cost or budget of the project will be determined.


Finishing on time and within a budget is not much consolation if the result of the project doesn’t work, and the common term useful quality is ‘fit for purpose’.  This will normally relates to the quality criteria for each product or main deliverable, and the acceptance criteria for the end product.


This isn’t often misunderstood term.  There are two aspects here, the scope of the project which is focused on the deliverables/products/functionality, and the scope of the project plan in terms of the work that needs to be carried out in order to deliver the above products.

When define scope for a particular project it is important to ask the question ‘what is included within this project – and what is to be excluded’.  What is to be excluded defines the boundary of the project scope, and as such, is vital in gaining a full agreement between customers and suppliers.


Broadly, resources come in two flavours; human and non human.  When considering human resources, then aspects such as knowledge, skills, experience, ability, availability, and commitment should be considered.

Non-human resource examples could be materials, equipment, facilities, goods and services.


A general term here is ‘risk appetite’ or risk tolerance.  The question ‘how much risk is too much risk?’ needs to be asked.  Typical attributes of a risk are the risk type, its probability, its impact, and its responses.  Risks are generally considered to be negative threats, but you should consider positive impact risks as well, which are called opportunities.

Be absolutely clear, the environment of a project is a complex and sensitive one, just like our own Earth and the environmental changes being caused by the actions of us humans…

It makes sense to fully understand and document the above six project constraints as part of concept and planning phases.

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