What are Constraints in a Software Development Project and How to Deal with Them Without Sacrificing the Quality

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The resources such as time, expertise, budget, skills, technical capabilities, etc., are finite in any software development project. Learn how to deal with project constraints in software engineering and how to manage them without sacrificing your product’s quality.

Software planning is tricky even if you imagine that you have infinite resources. However, no business, even the largest and most profitable one has infinite access to money, time, experts and other things that influence the software development process. As a product owner, product manager or a stakeholder you need to learn to manage the main limitations of software projects efficiently. 

Proper planning and consideration of your unique project limitations will help you ensure that your product is delivered on time, budget and according to your scope. In this article, you’ll learn about the common constraints in software development, and tools and methods of their management. 

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What are project constraints in software development

Project constraints are the factors that limit your development process. Project constraints can be material, for example money that make up your project budget, or hardware that’s needed to write the code. They can also be non-material: anything from time constraints to customer satisfaction or market unexpectancies can harm or slow down your project development. 

Project constraints are the factors that limit your development process. They include everything limited, from time and resources to professionals and technical aspects of your future project. Thorough panning is what helps to manage project constraints.

Andrew Smely, project manager at Mobindustry

Some experts say that there can be up to 19 different project constraints in software development. In this article, I’ll cover the most common of them. If there are any specific constraints to your business or unique project conditions, your project manager should consider them as well and calculate the risks during the planning stage of your project. 

We’ll talk about effective constraint management later. Now let’s discuss the main types of project constraints.

What is the difference between dependencies and constraints?

Any project has its dependencies and constraints, and both these elements can cause delays, exceeding the budget and more. What is the difference between dependencies and constraints in software development?

As each project is essentially a chain of tasks, many of them will have dependencies on each other: without completing one task, you aren’t able to start working on another. If these dependencies were overlooked during the planning phase, they can cause delays and project management issues, and confuse the team. 

Dependencies can appear between tasks, while constraints are any resources and conditions that liit the project development. Dependencies can also become constraints or even risks, if there are too many of them.

Andrey Smely, project manager at Mobindustry

Constraints, on the other hand, are more connected to resources and the initial requirements for the project. Things like deadlines, scope, and required skills put limitations on how you plan your project and allocate resources.

So, anything that limits your project implementation is a constraint. A large number of dependencies can be a constraint of itself, and to avoid this, you need to plan your project thoroughly. Critical path analysis is one of the best methodologies for planning the project with consideration of all dependencies. 

The focus of this article is on constraints. Let’s discuss each of them and talk about their effect on a project. 

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Top 3 constraints: the Triple constraint triangle in project planning

Generally, there are three major constraints that are present in each project and influence all other constraints. They are called the triple constraints of project management and include:

  • Time constraint. The project’s schedule and time at which each part of the project should be completed including the final delivery. 
  • Scope constraint. Scope includes all the features and functionality of the software product, as well as its goals and tasks that need to be completed.
  • Cost constraint. Cost includes the material resources including money that should be spent on a project to be delivered on time and according to the predetermined scope. Cost includes financial investments in not only the software itself but also labor, human resources, vendors, quality control, tools, etc. 

They make up a so-called constraint triangle. Let’s talk about it in detail and then discuss all other constraints that you may encounter on your project.

Time constraint

The time constraints in project management are the deadline by which a project should be completed, and also the development schedule that determines at which point each part of the project should be delivered. Time is usually hard to predict accurately, and estimating the final date of delivery is one of the biggest challenges of project management. 

To accurately estimate the time, project managers use a multitude of methodologies and also consider risks and unexpected situations that can occur during the project. What concrete steps can your team take to properly schedule your project and manage the delivery time?

  • Plan first. Developing software without a plan is like building a house without a blueprint. Invest your time into planning before the project begins, define the main goals for your team and find all the resources needed to complete each task. 
  • Schedule each activity. Each task should have its duration and delivery time. Make sure to approach the scheduling realistically and consider all potential risks and unexpected situations. 
  • Monitor constantly. Use historical data to your advantage and always compare the previous results with the current results. At Mobindustry we always do retrospectives after each sprint to analyze what was done correctly and what could be improved. Then, we discuss this with the team and all the key stakeholders, and make changes to the next plans. 
  • Control the process. Whether the development process runs smoothly or not, always control it and determine the factors that influence the project positively or negatively. Find the bottlenecks early and take a proactive approach to development, by addressing the issues before they become problems.
  • Use proper time management methodologies. Methodologies like Gantt charts, Critical path analysis, and PERT can help you with planning, task prioritization, and time management on your project. 

Scope constraint

The scope of the project is usually defined during a discovery phase, where a business analyst extracts all the business goals and requirements, and learns about the business processes to determine the best functionality for solving particular issues of both business and its customers.

The scope is usually documented in a technical specification that describes every detail of the project, from features and functionality to third-party integrations and tech stack. 

Of course, as the development process goes, and business goals change, the scope can change as well. This is called scope creep when a scope is changed in the middle of the development process. To efficiently develop software, you need to keep the scope in check. Here are the steps you can take to manage scope constraints in project management:

  • Keep the documentation clear and full. You need to thoroughly document every feature and every change, and keep the full project scope in one place at all times to avoid miscommunication and confusion. 
  • Set up the change management. Randomly making changes to the project can cause delays, team demotivation and other issues. You need to have a certain procedure for making changes in the project, so that every stakeholder knows how exactly the change can be proposed, implemented, reviewed and accepted.
  • Communicate frequently. Always discuss the scope with stakeholders and team members, so that everyone is at the same page, and business stakeholders are sure that the scope is corresponding to their business needs.
  • Prioritize the tasks. To optimize the development process, prioritize tasks. For example, you can choose the features to develop first for your MVP, so that you can decide on your next steps based on hard data you gather from your first users after the launch.

Cost constraint

The cost of a project includes all the financial expenses like labor, taxes, hardware, materials, recruiting, paid third-party services and more. The cost is calculated during the estimation process after the discovery phase when the scope is defined. How can you manage the cost constraints on your project?

  • Use historical data. Predict the cost of your project by comparing it to similar projects that were developed recently. 
  • Estimate the resources. Figure out what resources you’ll need for each task and calculate their cost. Resource constraints in project management are deeply connected with cost.
  • Compare vendor bids. Each of your potential vendors will offer their bids. Average them out to find out the typical cost of projects similar to yours. 

All the components of the project management constraints triangle are interdependent. Here are the project constraints examples:

  • Time and Scope. If you want to move the deadline closer, you’ll need to also reduce the project scope, so that you can finish everything on time. If you want more possibilities for expansion or changes in your scope, you’ll need to increase the timeline.
  • Cost and Scope. Reducing the scope will result in lower costs. This is especially true if you partner with vendors: the fewer tasks they’ll need to complete, the fewer hours they’ll spend on your project, and you’ll pay less.
  • Time and Cost. These two factors are also often related. For example, if you want to reduce the time of your project without sacrificing its scope, you may need to expand your development team and this means more expenses. 

Usually, if you are cutting edges in certain areas, you’ll need to make tradeoffs. For example, if you want a high-quality product fast, you’ll probably need to pay more. If you want your product to be cheap and high quality, you’ll probably spend more time building it. 

Let’s now talk about all other software development project constraints that are usually dependent on the Triple constraint triangle I described above. 

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Other constraints in software project management

Quality

Quality of a software product can be measured from both technical and business perspectives. Factors such as code clarity, maintainability, performance, usability, are technical characteristics of quality. Business performance, engagement, conversion rates, user satisfaction are business metrics of your product’s quality. 

Quality is one of the major software project constraints that is present in any project. It depends heavily on all the parts of the constraint triangle, as it usually requires hefty investments of money and time, and is also influenced by the scope. Here are some examples:

  • If you decide to reduce the monetary investment in your product, you’ll likely need to reduce the scope as well, and it will influence the final quality of your product. 
  • If you want your product to be developed faster, but also don’t want to expand your budget, this will affect quality as well. 
  • If you extend the scope of your product during the development (this is called scope creep), you may not have enough time and resources to ensure the quality of your product.

Benefits

Benefits are the business expectations and goals of a project. What do you expect to gain after the launch of your software product? What benefits to your business will make your investments worth it?

All these questions should be answered with hard numbers, for example, your expected revenue, conversion rates, new customers, and so on. You need to have a clear idea of what you plan to gain for your organization and at what cost. 

The benefits should be defined at the planning stage of a product. Listing them will be a part of your technical feasibility analysis — an analysis that determines if the results are worth the effort. 

You need to also come up with metrics that you’ll use to measure the actual success of your product after its launch. If you see that the results fall behind from what you’ve expected, you need to pause the development and see what can be improved.

The cost-benefit ratio can change at any stage of the product development. For example, if the cost of materials suddenly rises, it may no longer be beneficial for your business to continue the development. 

To manage the benefits constraint, you need to constantly compare the expected benefits to your losses, changes, costs and actual benefits you get. 

Risks

Any software development project is full of risks, and it’s important to consider them at every stage of the development process. Project managers usually consider risks when they prepare a final estimate of the project. What are the most common risk constraints in project management? 

  • The market suddenly changes in the middle of development
  • A vendor doesn’t deliver what was expected
  • An important specialist leaves the project because of illness
  • A competitor launches a similar product

To manage risks, you need to foresee them to a reasonable degree. For example, always have a backup supplier, or have enough time to find a new specialist. This is called risk tolerance, and your organization needs it to successfully mitigate the risks. 

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Resources

Project management resource constraints are connected with all other constraints, as every step of this process requires certain resources. They include: 

  • Equipment
  • Materials
  • Software
  • Facilities
  • People

To successfully manage resources, you need to spend time on resource allocation before and during the development, as your needs may change over time, and you’ll have to allocate resources to different tasks according to their current priority. 

So far we’ve talked about the most important and common software project constraints: 

  • Time
  • Money
  • Scope
  • Quality
  • Benefits
  • Resources
  • Risks

Let’s now briefly discuss other typical constraints for software project development that you may encounter during your project development.

Business constraints. This includes anything about a business that can’t be changed, for example business operations, commitments, and rules that are reflected in the software. 

Design. Sometimes the design of a software product defines its abilities, features, technologies and more. 

Facilities. This type of constraint may be related to the resources. Facilities like data centers or servers can put certain constraints on your project.

Human resources. During product development you may need to expand your team, and it can often pose a challenge. Be sure to work with vendors who are ready to provide you with more specialists if needed. Note however, that this will affect the cost of your project.

Infrastructure. If you try to make changes to your legacy system, you’ll need to go about the design constraints that influence the compatibility with new technologies.

Legal issues. Your project may be restricted with laws and regulations. This is especially true to fintech, healthcare and transportation software, and other products that deal with sensitive data and the public environment. 

Methodology. A choice of a certain project management methodology can put certain limitations on how you approach the development. 

Organizational constraint. Sometimes you’ll need to share resources with functional managers, and this will put certain limitations on how much time and effort your team is spending on your product.

Business operations constraint. Your development process may be affected by certain business operations in your company, for example the budgeting process.

Technical constraint. This includes the limitations that your developers have no power over. For example, if you use a third-party service in your software, like a payment processor, they can change rules or technical characteristics of their product at any time, and you’ll need to adjust to them.

Final thoughts

In this article we talked about the constraints in software development, and discussed how you can deal with them on your project. Constraints are a natural part of every project, but it’s important to include them in your planning stage. 

At Mobindustry, we consider all technical and business constraints during the discovery phase, where we learn about your business, its goals, expectations and available resources. We then offer our resources and consider any potential and real technical constraints that may affect your project. 

Clear communication and planning are the best ways to make sure the constraints don’t harm your project, and the software is delivered on time and budget while also fulfilling your business goals and objectives. 

If you’d like to build a software product for your business, at Mobindustry we offer full-cycle development, from thorough and realistic planning to support and maintenance after the launch. Feel free to contact us, and we’ll make sure no constraints are in the way of your success.

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Frequently Asked Questions

Thorough planning is a key to successful software development, and it should be done by professionals who have vast experience in project management and software development. Such people usually know what constraints are typical for certain projects, and they know how to predict their influence correctly. At each stage of your project, you need to consider these constraints and always correct your actions based on the current situation. A discovery phase is a planning stage that allows the whole team to plan your project properly, define the scope, and estimate time with consideration of all constraints such as budget, resources, available experts, etc.

Time, scope and cost are three most important constraints that are dependent on each other and also influence the quality of your final product. These four constraints along with resources and risks make up the list of six most important and common constraints in software engineering and project management.

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