Project Constraints: 6 Examples and How to Manage Each


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Key Takeaways

  • Project constraints are limitations that present themselves during the project lifecycle that impact overall success.
  • Most common project constraints include scope, risk, cost, resource, time, and quality.
  • The triple constraints of project management or the project management triangle refers to the three constraints that are inherent to every project: scope, cost, and time.

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Project managers spend a lot of time identifying and eliminating project risks, but project constraints, if left unchecked, can also have negative impact on your work. Although they are often used interchangeably, risks and constraints describe two very different types of project hazard—and learning to manage the latter is just as important as managing the former.

What are Constraints in Project Management?

Unlike project risks, which may or may not occur during the project lifecycle, project management constraints represent actual limitations that are present in every project. In some cases, however, even team members are not aware of the constraints placed on each project. Other times, they are spread across the entire team.

Project constraints often have a direct effect on each other. If you want to increase the scope of your current project, for example, you’ll likely have to increase the budget and the amount of  allocated resources. And if your resources can’t accommodate the expansion, then you’ll have to cancel it.

This is why managing constraints is an essential part of project management. Failure to do so can lead to the project falling behind schedule or going over budget.

6 Constraints in Project Management

Managing project constraints starts with knowing what they are. Every project experiences constraints or limitations one way or another, with some constraints more common and more impactful than others.


This constraint refers to project goals and objectives, final deliverables, their quality, and their efficacy. Other limitations, such as cost and time, are directly dependent on the project’s scope. As a result, they will scale up or down to match a project’s evolving scope. This type of constraint is sometimes referred to as scope creep.

Read more: What is Scope Creep in Project Management?


Scope constraint occurs when the project’s scope is changed in the middle of execution. Consider a project with the goal of creating a new website for a client. The project has begun, but the client suddenly asks the PM to create four new sections that weren’t covered in the initial project brief. This is a prime example of scope constraint or scope creep, and it’s a surefire way to burn out an entire team.

Another example of scope constraint is when project timelines are pushed forward or back, when your team has to learn how to use new tools for the project, or when a project’s quality standards are suddenly changed.

How to address a scope constraint

To address a scope constraint, make sure to establish clear goals, milestones, and individual responsibilities at the beginning of the project. If the project has already started, your best defenses against scope constraints are by communicating with key stakeholders and implementing an official change request process for any modifications to the initial project scope.


Projects are also constrained by the amount of risk involved. The typical project faces numerous types of risks, including those stemming from technology, external sources, and even the organization itself. Project risks can be short- or long-term in nature, and they can occur at nearly any point in the standard project lifecycle.


Most risks have a negative effect on the project as a whole. If you’re running behind schedule to finish a client’s website, for example, you might be tempted to cut corners or leave out certain features that should have been included. While this means that you’ll have the project done on time, you run the risk of the client rejecting your work.

However, some project risks are positive. To continue with the example, let’s assume that the client is happy with the final project deliverable, even without all the features they originally specified. In this case, the original risk constraint (the project deadline) actually led to a positive outcome .

How to address risk constraint

Risk constraint is best solved by applying the standard risk management processes with every new project. Creating a comprehensive risk analysis at the beginning of the work is a great way to identify, prioritize, and delegate specific project risks. For better results, consider running a SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats) analysis.

Read more: Best Risk Management Software


Every project is limited by its maximum cost. This does not only include the established project budget, but it also covers variable costs such as each team member’s pay, cost of raw materials, facility and equipment rental/usage, and in some cases, repair costs for damaged equipment.


An example is if after coming up with a forecasted budget for the project at hand, the client suddenly wants to double the workload by adding more deliverables. This change means increased costs, such as additional compensation for the extra hours the project team members will have to put in. If the client isn’t willing to pay more, you have the option to either reject the project outright or work your way around the cost constraints.

How to address cost constraint

Most cost constraints can easily be addressed at the beginning of the project through proper project management budgeting. Individual cost constraints can be overcome by negotiating prices with suppliers, automating menial tasks to reduce staffing needs, and prioritizing your project’s most important objectives.


Generally speaking, resource constraint covers limitations posed by all project resources other than time and cost. Depending on the project, this could include constraints on:

  • Raw material procurement
  • Access to technological equipment
  • Labor allocation


Using the same example of building a website for a client, say for example it’s been established that the website is being designed by one person, but  the project turns out to be so big that it would require multiple designers and developers. In this case, you’ll have to recruit additional team members to help you complete the project.

But what happens if you can’t gather enough manpower? What if you can’t find a recruit with the necessary skills for the project? These issues are both types of resource constraints that, if left unchecked, could result in a failed project.

How to address resource constraint

Like most project management constraints, resource constraint is best solved through thorough and diligent project planning. Other strategies include assessing your resources on a regular basis, enhancing the skills of your project team members, and facilitating access to the necessary tools and technology at the beginning of every project.


If there’s one resource you can never reclaim, it’s lost time. While this is sometimes categorized under resources, projects that are time-sensitive consider this a separate constraint.


Time constraints are born from the moment the project’s start date and the deadline for project deliverables are determined. But there are other factors that introduce time constraints of their own, such as the length of the average workday and client availability.

Establishing a deadline for project completion at the end of the week, for example, provides a clear and straightforward time constraint. If your project team members can only work for eight hours a day, then they’re operating under that time constraint too.

How to address time constraint

Time constraints in project management are addressed by working with stakeholders to map out the entire project timeline before the project start date. This lets everyone know exactly how the project should progress while making it easy to establish milestones and review productivity at regular intervals.


Sometimes known as the quality tolerance, these constraints revolve around the final quality of your project deliverables. Did they meet your client’s needs, or did they miss the mark? It’s ultimately up to the client to decide if the finished project meets their quality standards, so it’s best to clarify their expectations ahead of time.


Using the scenario of building a website for a client, what if the team has received instructions to proceed, but it was not made known that the client specifically requested their website to be coded using a mixture of HTML5, JavaScript, and Python. In this case, failure to use all three of the requested programming languages will cause the project to fall short of the quality standards issued by the client.

How to address quality constraint

Most modern projects utilize a quality management plan to mitigate any potential issues with quality right from the start. Not only does this clarify the client’s expectations, but it also lets them know exactly what they can expect from your team. The quality management plan can also be cited in case any discrepancies or disagreements arise later on.

Read more: What Is Project Quality Management?

What are the Triple Constraints in Project Management?

Also known as the project management triangle, the triple constraints of project management collectively refer to the three constraints that are inherent to every project: scope, cost, and time. In order to complete your project successfully, it’s critical that you maintain proper balance between all three.

Having a clear, concise, and accurate project scope at the beginning of the project gives you a much better understanding of project costs and the overall project timeline. Conversely, failing to define the project scope accurately will ultimately throw off your budget and schedule.

How to Turn Constraints into Opportunities

Each project constraint represents an obstacle to overcome during the project lifecycle, but these limitations can also be turned into opportunities for the entire team.

While novice PMs generally have difficulty managing scope constraints, for example, they have the opportunity to develop the skill across multiple projects. While cost and resource constraints might prohibit your team’s overall creativity, they ultimately teach them how to make the most of the tools that they have. Time constraints might require your team to put in some overtime, but they’ll learn how to work more efficiently in the future.

Bottom Line

Not only do project managers have to worry about the triple constraints of project management, but they also have to think about other limitations that may arise within the project lifecycle. Being able to identify these project constraints and capitalizing on the opportunities they present is the mark of an expert project manager, but it’s an art form that can only be truly mastered through hands-on experience.

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