assumptions-and-constraints-pmp

In project management, we make assumptions and constraints always limit us. They are also a part of our lives.

For example, suppose you plan to go shopping at a mall that takes one hour to reach by car.

You assumed that you would leave your home at around 6:00 pm and reach the mall by 7:00 pm.

This was your assumption. What about the constraints?

In the given example, you can think of two. The first constraint is money. If you have 500 USD in your hand, you cannot shop for more than this amount. The second constraint is the mall’s closing time; let us say it is at 10:30 pm. This means you cannot continue your shopping after that.

Likewise, projects also have assumptions and constraints. You must understand and control these factors if you want to complete your project successfully.

These are defined and identified when the project starts. Afterward, they are refined and re-analyzed throughout the project life cycle. Assumptions and constraints are inputs of many processes in the PMBOK Guide.

They are an essential aspect of your project. They are not managed like the requirements or risks. However, properly documenting them helps to protect you from many issues. You can find your project’s assumptions and constraints in the project scope statement.

Assumptions

An assumption is what you believe to be true. These are anticipated events or circumstances that are expected during your project’s life cycle. You make assumptions based on your experience or the information available on hand.

Assumptions may not end up being true. Sometimes, they can be false and it may affect your project. This adds risk to the project.

For example, let us reconsider the earlier example. You assumed that it would take one hour for you to reach the destination. What will happen if you get stuck in traffic and can’t reach the mall on time?

Your assumption turned out to be false. Now your shopping is at risk.

This can also happen to your project.

For example, you assumed that you could get equipment whenever you needed it. However, you couldn’t when the time came.

Now you are in a difficult situation.

Assumptions play an essential role in developing a risk management plan. Therefore, as a project manager, you must analyze each assumption and its impact.

Examples of Assumptions

A few examples of assumptions are:

  • You will get all the resources you need.
  • During the rainy season, cheap labor will be available.
  • All relevant stakeholders will come to the next meeting.
  • Your team members have all the required skills.
  • All of the equipment is in good condition.
  • The supplier will deliver consumables on time.

Constraints

Constraints are limitations imposed on the project: for example, budget, schedule, or resources, etc.

The PMBOK Guide recognizes six project constraints: scope, quality, schedule, budget, resources, and risk. Out of these six, scope, schedule, and budget are known as the triple constraints.

These constraints are defined at the beginning of your project. And you have to work within their boundaries.

A constraint can be of two types:

  1. Business Constraints
  2. Technical Constraints

Business Constraints

Business constraints depend on the state of your organization. They are high-level constraints and often defined when the project starts: for example, time, budget, resources, etc.

Changes to these constraints are rare. The project management team has to abide by them.

Technical Constraints

Technical constraints limit your design choices. They are fixed. Any change to the technical specifications can affect your project planning.

For example, let’s say you’re constructing a pipeline. According to the design, the pipeline should withstand a certain amount of pressure; this is your technical constraint.

Every project has constraints. Therefore, you must identify all of them and develop your plan accordingly. Constraints are outside of your control. They are imposed by clients, organizations, or government regulations.

Examples of Constraints

A few examples of constraints are:

  • You must achieve the first milestone within one month.
  • You have to work with the available resources.
  • You will only have two site engineers.

Assumptions Vs Constraints

The following are a few differences between assumptions and constraints.

  • Assumptions are believed to be true, while constraints are true in nature.
  • Assumptions are good for the project, while constraints are not good, most of the time.
  • If assumptions become false, it is bad news for the project. However, if constraints are false, it is good.

These parameters play a vital role in the planning process. They are the foundation of your project management plan. They can be related to human resources, budget, time or any kind of functionally. Any assumption is a potential risk for your project. If an assumption is incorrect, you are in trouble. Your risk management plan heavily depends on assumptions and constraints. Failing to identify any of them can affect your project. 

Summary

Assumptions and constraints are an important part of your project. They need to be identified, controlled, and monitored continuously. An assumption is a condition you think to be true, and a constraint is a limitation on your project. Assumptions need to be analyzed, while constraints need to be identified throughout the project lifecycle. Managing assumptions and constraints are necessary to complete your project with minimal obstruction. 

What about assumptions and constraints on your project? Please share your experience through the comments section.

This is an essential topic from a PMP certification exam point of view. You may see a question about this.

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Speak Your Mind

  • Hi Fahad,

    It is indeed a great and nice article and the contents are very much engaging that I kept reading until the end.

    An assumption is identified and are documented at a high-level meeting during the initiation of the project and are refined and documented in details as a part of the Define Scope process in project planning.

    Assumption analysis is a part of risk management process. The project management plan needs to change if constraints change or assumptions are proven wrong. Constraints and assumptions need to be identified, tracked and effectively controlled during the project life cycle.

    Best Regards

    tiemchart.com

  • I want to know what can be the constraints and assumptions for a management system which involves customer records, appointments, accounts, billings etc.

  • your explanations on assumption and constraints is very helpful. Any suggestion on the scope of work for office relocation??..Thanks

  • Hi Fahad,

    I had like you to explain the different between Assumption and Dependency. It looks more or less the same ?

    Can you help clarify above terms and difference.

    Thanks
    Kalpesh Parmar

  • Hi,
    It would be pretty good to give real examples of project assumptions and risk for guidance purposes when one is developing a project proposal.
    Thanks

  • I am a construction management student and my research is on the impact of scope management on project delivery in construction projects. the problem is most literature seems to be based on other industries such as IT. where can i source literature specific to construction or can i apply the available literature to my field

  • I have debate with presenter group. Can you explain more about managing by constraint in projects? Or give me one question about that.. Thankyou

  • i have project which i am doing business case for it. it is the REVETMENT PROJECT, what are the assumptions and constraints to this project?

  • Fahad literally your explantion technique is very unique. i always read yours topic where i feel any confusion. i am a student of MS Project Management and often i have some confusions so your post are very meanigful for me……Again Thanks for this Awesome explanation…..
    Regards; tahir

  • hi, can you give an example of a project where its scope is contraint, cost is to be accepted and time is enhance. please

  • I see that Assumptions and Constraints are part of both the Project Charter and Scope Statement. My understanding is that Assumptions and Constraints both appear in the Scope Statement and are more detailed. These can also be a part of the Project Charter but will be high-level only. Is this understanding correct.

    From an exam perspective should be consider these as a part of the Scope Statement only.

    • Niraj,
      Adding to what you have already said.
      Project Scope Statement, after it gets approved, becomes a part of the scope baseline. So assumptions, constraints and whatever else is in the Project Scope Statement becomes a reference for the project.
      The distinction between charter and scope statement, is not only based on high level and low level of detail.
      Best regards,

  • Hi.. I attempting to do the first set of documents to create a project to build a 5 stories commercial building as a practice before my actual assignment.. Other than the resources, time and budget constraints what other are there?

  • Hi 🙂
    Im interested with your conceptions.. Could you give some examples of assumptions and constraints when the project is about improvement the educational programme..?
    I would appreciate your help 🙂

  • Thanks you for helping me to understand the terminology. I am working on my ITT Technical Institute Online PM333 class Course Project. I complete the Project Concept as good as I could and submitted it. I am now on my Business Case paper I was need some more example of Assumption and Constraints that will related to my Project topic which is “Redesign Employee Lunchroom (or break room) for a Company.” And to help me visual I went with the local campus for ITT in North Charleston, SC.

    If needed you can read my Project Concept at the following link: https://www.facebook.com/notes/shannon-marie-canning/pm333-project-communication-documentation-week-1-minor-writing-assignment-lab/10152100776970948

    And if needed you can read the Business Case paper but remember it is incomplete at the following link:https://www.facebook.com/notes/shannon-marie-canning/pm333-project-communication-documentation-week-2-minor-writing-assignment-lab/10152100800810948

    Any other advice you can give to aid in the completion of the papers (Deadline for all assignment for this PM333 is Sunday Night.

    I still got to work on the Project Charter Paper, Communication Plan Paper, Risk Management Plan Paper, Quality Management Plan Paper, Post-Project Report Paper and something called a Debriefing Report which talk about Lesson Learned in the instruction of the assignment.

  • I have scheduled for the exam on Jan 20 (3 days back) and got confirmation mail from Prometric center, but when I log on to PMI web site it still shows the status as yet to schedule the exam.
    Do I have to report to PMI or wait for some more days for the status update.

  • Hi Fahad,

    I was going through the meaning of Project Scope Statement but as I am from a Construction Management background, I’m finding it hard to provide a Project Scope Statement on a building for example. PMBoK seems to be more related to other industries. Do you have an example?

    Thanks

    • The PMBOK Guide is industry independent. This guide is extensively used in construction industries. I am seeing it in Oil and Gas Field.

  • Hi Fahad,

    Thanks as always for your usual assistance regarding Project Management. I’d like you to explain the differences between Constraints and Enterprise Environmental Factors. It seems they mean almost the same thing. Thanks again.

    • No they are not the same.

      Constraints are the limitations to your project. For example, you have finish this project within 90 days. Constraints are the limitations imposed on your project.

      On the other hand Enterprise Environmental Factor is an Environment, you have to work within it.

  • Hi Fahad,

    Thanks for your explaination.
    Was going through the Project Scope Statement and found the term ” Product Acceptance Criteria”.

    As per my understanding of this term,it means certain condition/threshold on which the Product/Project will be accepted.

    Can you please explain what is your understanding of this term as per the PMI perspective. If you could give some real world examples related to this it would be even better.

    Thanks

    • Let us take the example of iPhone 5.

      Physical dimensions of iPhone 5 are as follows:

      Depth- 7.6 mm, weight – 112 gm and volume – 3.3 sq. inch.

      Now the dimensional acceptance criteria for iPhone 5 may be as follows:

      Depth = 7.6 with tolerance of 0.001 mm (either negative or positive),
      weight = 112 gm with tolerance of 2 gm (either positive or negative) and
      volume = 3.3 sq inch with tolerance 0 .01 sq inch (either positive or negative).

      Now, if any iPhone model is found exceeding the tolerance limit will not be accepted.

      (Note: Above tolerance limits are given for illustrative purpose only. I have no idea about the actual tolerance limit for the iPhone.)

  • I have scheduled for the exam on Jan 20 (3 days back) and got confirmation mail from Prometric center, but when I log on to PMI web site it still shows the status as yet to schedule the exam.
    Do I have to report to PMI or wait for some more days for the status update.
    Mani Naga.

    • You got the confirmation email from prometric center, that is enough for now. Once you pass the exam, your status will be changed.

      Anyway, in case of any doubt you’re free to contact the PMI customer care.

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