In difficult economic times, “doing more with fewer resources” requires smarter planning and new concepts to help your projects succeed. This paper introduces the new concepts of project management constraint theory and a category of constraints to ensure positive outcomes. Definitions of constraints and risks are analyzed.
Project management constraint theory is the identification, definition, categorization, utilization, modification, planning, implementation, and control of project constraints. Constraints may be grouped into categories. A new category of constraints, presented in this paper, is called constraints to ensure positive outcomes (C-TEPO), a set of rules affecting a project to bring about positive outcomes and to enhance project performance and success.
- An example of C-TEPO is the requirement by an organization that earned value measurements and reports be required in a new project. This constraint is mandated so that ongoing schedule and cost variance information will be reviewed regularly by management for the purpose of applying corrective action quickly, if needed, to make the project successful.
Another category of constraints was described by the author in a previous paper (Kozy, 2008). This paper presents a sample project that demonstrates how to apply these new concepts, with tools and methodology to identify and develop project constraints. A template and processes are included for project managers who want to apply these concepts to their future projects to help ensure their success, to produce tangible and/or intangible benefits, and to show the value of their project management.
Definitions in the PMBOK® Guide and Examples
“Constraint. The state, quality, or sense of being restricted to a given course of action or inaction. An applicable restriction or limitation, either internal or external to the project, that will affect the performance of the project or a process.
- For example, a schedule constraint is any limitation or restraint placed on the project schedule that affects when a schedule activity can be scheduled and is usually in the form of fixed imposed dates” (Project Management Institute [PMI], 2008, p. 421).
“Risk. An uncertain event or condition that, if it occurs, has a positive or negative effect on a project’s objectives” (PMI, 2008, p. 438)
- Example of a negative risk (threat): An equipment supplier notifies you that it may not be able to deliver your order on the date expected in your project schedule. As the equipment’s delivery is on your critical path, this uncertain event, late delivery, could result in a later-than-expected project completion.
- Example of a positive risk (opportunity): An equipment supplier notifies you that it may be able to deliver the project’s order two weeks earlier than expected in your project schedule. As the equipment’s delivery is on your critical path and the installers are able to install the equipment early, this uncertain event, early delivery, could result in an earlier-than-expected project completion.
“Assumptions. Assumptions are factors that, for planning purposes, are considered to be true, real, or certain without proof or demonstrations.
Assumption Analysis. A technique that explores the accuracy of assumptions and identifies risks to the project from inaccuracy, inconsistency, or incompleteness of assumptions.” (PMI, 2008, p.419)
- Example of an assumption: Your organization will not close, run out of funds, or cancel your project.
Key Differences Among Constraints, Risks, and Assumptions
Constraints are different from risks because the causes of each constraint are certain and have either a 100% probability of occurring or no probability of occurring (See Exhibit 1: Graphical and Mathematical Representation).
- Examples of common constraints described in A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide)—Fourth Edition (PMI, 2008) include limitations, usually predetermined by the organization management before project execution—e.g., “predefined budget or any imposed dates or schedule milestones that are used by the customer or performing organization. When a project is performed under contract, contractual provisions will generally be constraints” (PMI, 2008, p. 115)
Risks, on the other hand, are events having a “probability” of occurring that is less than 100% percent and greater than 0% (see Exhibit 1). Risks can be categorized, prioritized, and identified before or after project execution begins. (PMI, 2008, pp. 279–281)
Exhibit 1: Graphical and mathematical representation of the differences. between risks and constraints.
Assumptions generally involve a degree of risk and therefore, have some probability of occurring (>0% and <100%) (PMI, 2008, p. 287). Assumptions are usually determined before project execution. This paper describes categories of project constraints as positive, useful concepts and views these concepts as helpful to project success; they are not obstacles to be eliminated, unnecessary restrictions, or limitations on freedom of action. This view contrasts with the view of Theory of Constraints (TOC) (check) by Eliyahu M. Goldratt (1999) which presents constraints as negative items or events that hinder workflows and production output and, thus, considers them as obstacles to be eliminated, one by one. New Definitions: Project Management Constraint Theory and Categories of Constraints Project Management Constraint (PMC) theory is the identification, definition, categorization, utilization, modification, planning, implementation, and control of project constraints. These project constraints are sets of rules that ensure positive outcomes or avoid negative outcomes that respectively increase or diminish project performance and success.
- Definition of project performance, success, rules, and constraints may be determined outside of the project or may be determined by the project manager, team, stakeholders, or sponsors.
- Constraints may be grouped into categories, such as: constraints to ensure positive outcomes (C-TEPO) and constraints to avoid negative outcomes (C-TANO).
Constraints to ensure positive outcomes (C-TEPO) is a special category of constraints where before project execution and prior to approval of project changes, the project team identifies, defines, communicates, and implements constraints in order to ensure positive project outcomes and add tangible and/or intangible benefits to the project.
- These constraints have the state, quality, sense or instruction of being restricted to a given course of action, or inaction, in order to enhance or exploit opportunities and ensure positive outcomes to the project. These constraints may be determined by external, organizational, or project sources.
- This category of constraints focuses on enhancing or exploiting these types of positive outcomes: project completion on-time or earlier than scheduled; project completion at a cost equal to or less than budget; revenue generation for the project or sponsor; improved return on investment; standardization of project methodology and expectations; meeting requirements to the satisfaction of the customer or stakeholder; quality expectations for the resulting product or service; team ethical behavior; team safety; team confidence and focus; job satisfaction and personal growth goals; improved teamwork; respect for team members, clients, and customers; improved customer relations; and project success.
- Example 1. The organization decides to order equipment for the project only from suppliers who have an excellent track record of on-time or early delivery of orders and who agree to payment of significant penalties if equipment is not delivered on-time.
- Example 2. The organization’s project management office (PMO) decides to incorporate Aspirational and Mandatory Standards for Responsibility, Respect, Fairness, and Honesty from Chapter 2 of the PMI Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct® (2006) into this Project’s C-TEPO. The decision may originate from the belief that use of such a code of ethics by an organization’s project managers definitely will ensure the success rate of a project by setting high ethical and positive expectations for behavior of the project manager.
In 2007 and 2008, the author presented the project management concept of Constraints to Avoid Negative Outcomes (C-TANO) at the PMI global congresses held in Atlanta and Sydney, respectively. (Kozy, 2008)
- Example of C-TANO: the sign found at commercial construction Project sites requiring that “hard hats” be worn by everyone at that site to prevent tragic injuries (see Exhibit 2).
Exhibit 2: Construction Site Signs in Australia are examples of C-TANO to avoid injuries.
Exhibit 3: “To Go” restaurant parking sign in the United States is an example of C-TEPO used to solve the parking problem while maintaining positive customer relations through the humor.
Tools and Methodology
Tools to Help Identify Project Constraints
Tools to help identify project constraints include: brainstorming (PMI, 2008, pp. 286, 428), root cause analysis (PMI, 2008, pp. 204, 447), “5 Whys” (Liker, 2004), and fishbone diagrams (PMI, 2008, pp. 208–209, 287). This paper presents a new tool: the project management constraint template (Exhibit 4). The project team and stakeholders need to work together to understand the project and its full scope in order to effectively use these tools to develop such constraints. A by-product of this process is that the project team may improve their level of understanding and buy-in, thus increasing the chances of success for the project.
Using the column headings in the template (Exhibit 4), the identification process of project constraint management begins with entries into the first column, Project Objectives. Here all of the objectives of this project are listed; these are gathered from the project charter, scope and project management plan documentation, including the project requirements. This complete list of objectives is necessary before brainstorming for identification and categorization of outcomes and their resultant constraints in the columns to the right. Next, define what are the considerations and consequences, or what reasons are behind or leading up to each of these objectives (the answers to “Why?” for each entry in Column 1); then, enter the answers into Column 2. Based on the information in the first two columns, brainstorm and enter a list of positive outcomes desired (Column 3) or of negative outcomes to avoid (Column 5). Finally, a list of corresponding constraints is developed by the team and entered into their respective categories in Column 4 or 6.
Exhibit 4: Project Management Constraint (PMC) template. (Six columns; add rows as needed.) See “process,” “using the tools,” and “cautions” for guidelines for each cell entry in the table.
In this paper, project constraint management and a new project management category of constraints were defined. A columnar-form template, tools, methodology, and examples were offered so that project managers can apply these positive concepts and creative approaches quickly and easily to new projects to ensure successful outcomes.