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.
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 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:
- Business Constraints
- Technical 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 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.
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.