Time Constraints in Project Management


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Every project comes with limitations and risks. Project constraints define the limits of what the project team can do or have, and these constraints generally fall under scope, cost, and time. Some project managers consider time constraint as the most important among the project management constraints. For instance, an international sporting event like the Olympics opens with a ceremony at a scheduled date and time. Imagine the effect if the committee handling the event delays it for a day. Project teams can find ways to add resources or borrow capital, but there is no source to borrow time from or ways to slow it down.

Table of contents

What is time constraint in project management?

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Project management identifies three basic project constraints: time, cost, and scope. A generally accepted time constraints meaning is the project’s scheduled date of completion. For the project to achieve its purpose, to reach its objective, and to deliver its value, the project team should declare it done on a set date. Time constraints determine when activities or tasks of a project should start and when they should end. The constraints include the defined deadlines for each important phase of the project and the rollout of the final deliverable.

Read also: Understanding Triple Constraint & The Project Management Triangle

Types of time constraints

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Time constraints deal with schedules, dates, time, and deadlines. Teams can recognize the constraints better with the corresponding action that teams can take to work successfully within the time boundaries.

Start no earlier than

This time constraint specifies the earliest date the team can start working on a task within a project. It may not specify a deadline but it can affect the progress of the project or the start of dependent tasks. For example, the activity of laying the building foundation cannot start earlier than the arrival of trucks to pour the cement.

Finish no later than

This time constraint specifies when the latest date the team can finish a task within the project. This is a hard deadline that will impact the overall schedule of the project when missed. An example task with a finish no later than time constraint is a server upgrade activity that the team must complete before users start working in the morning.

As soon as possible

An ASAP constraint is a type of time constraint with direct implications to cost. Any task that the project team can start or complete as soon as possible also implies that any delay incurs cost that affects the project budget limits. Conversely, early start and completion can result in savings. In the earlier example, starting and finishing a server backup before the scheduled upgrade is an example of an ASAP time constraint.

Ways to manage time constraints

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Problems with time constraints can come from different sources. They can come from inaccurate predictions such as when project duration estimates are too optimistic. They can also come from poor performance when team members experience confusion, lack of motivation, or burnout. Lastly, uncontrolled outside interference such as unforeseen events, disasters, or sudden unavailability of resource can cause delays and create problems with time constraints. Here are some best practices to navigate successfully within project time constraints.

Time management tips

Spend time on project planning

A well-defined project plan is an effective guide to work well within time constraints. Allocate time to planning so the team can clearly and accurately define goals, tasks, methods, milestones, and results. This way, when the team starts executing the project, they have clarity and purpose concerning all their actions. They will not spend more than enough time to figure out what, when, and how to do their tasks.

Communicate with stakeholders

Project managers should continually engage with stakeholders so that communication is ongoing with prompt replies. Stakeholders can lose track, shift their attention, or change priorities. When they are regularly updated with the status and the progress of the project, they can actively support and participate to make things smoother as the project moves forward.

Create realistic schedules

Create realistic estimates when building the project schedule. Agree on timelines with clients and other stakeholders. Build buffers and contingencies whenever there are risks identified to impact the schedule. Identify all phases of the project and budget time for each in detail. Develop a work breakdown structure that can minimize wasted time when completing deliverables.

Track time

Once the project is underway, track the actual time and compare it against the planned time to see if the schedule is on track. Small delays can accumulate and result in missed deadlines at the later stages. Analyze past performance and trends and communicate them to stakeholders. Set thresholds that can help alert the project team of any risk or danger of missing target dates.

Read also: Top Employee Time Tracking Apps

Avoid unnecessary meetings

Minimize scheduling meetings to only the important junctions of the project. If there are more efficient ways to communicate and share information, use them instead of face-to-face meetings. Project management software and other reporting tools can take the place of meetings and provide a more productive use of time. If a meeting is necessary, take time to prepare an agenda before it takes place. Make sure the attendee is essential in the meeting, and write the minutes of the meeting to document what the participants accomplished, what they agreed upon, and what they need to follow up on.

Prepare to re-schedule

In spite of best efforts, the project may encounter delays beyond the control of all involved. The project manager should be quick to reach out to stakeholders and ask for flexibility when needed. But project managers should also encourage the team to stick to a predetermined plan or agreed-upon process instead of making changes every now and then. Sometimes, all a plan needs is enough time for the plan to start working.

Understanding time constraints and its effects

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Project constraints form a link with one another. Some consider time constraints as the most difficult to work around. Teams can attempt to remedy missed deadlines by cutting off tasks, which affects the scope of the project. Others try to work overtime or add resources, but this affects cost. Many companies focus on time constraint because delays can directly affect the bottom line. But it is also important to recognize and evaluate every constraint and balance them all with the demands of the project.

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