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Iryna Viter

Resource Constraints 101: Identify, Resolve, Overcome

Resource constraints are very common in project management. Learn how to identify and resolve them in our quick guide.

In a perfect world, you would complete all projects on time and within budget. In the real world, however, most project managers have to deal with limitations in project resources. These limitations can slow down projects and cause project managers to miss their deadlines.

In this article, we will look at the resource constraints you may face in project management, and how to handle them to meet the resource demands of your project.

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What are resource constraints?

Resource constraints occur when project managers do not have enough resources to meet the demands and outcome of a project. A project may face limited resources in terms of human resources, materials, equipment, or finances. Constraints include deficits, limitations, and risks in the project plan that affect the availability, capacity, and accessibility of those resources, and mean they cannot match the resource demand.

Our CEO Tim is convinced that nowadays everyone is operating in a heavily constrained resource environment: 

In a world where resources are limited, we're all feeling the crunch. Remember, not too long ago, things were different. Money was flowing, and finding staff was the big challenge. But those days are behind us, and now we're playing a whole new game. This impacts everyone, and it's a big deal.

Why are resource constraints important in project management?

Poor planning of project resources results in poor project outcomes, including low-quality work, failed project completion, and loss of business opportunities in future projects.

Every phase in project planning has to account for potential limitations and strive for evenly distributed resources. The resource manager needs to coordinate with project managers to handle project constraints that may arise.

A wise resource management process requires putting the project resources to the right tasks in managing resource constraints. The optimal time to allocate resources is months before embarking on the project, so that potential resource constraints can be resolved and resource risk averted.

But handling resource constraints doesn't end with developing the first draft resource plan. It is an ongoing process during the project life cycle, with evaluation and re-evaluation at critical milestones, to ensure everything is on target. Continuous evaluation minimizes key risks and helps determine ways to resolve resource constraints in a timely manner. The outcome you should aim for could look like this:

Types of constraints on resource availability

They are several types of constraints involved in resource planning. The three most critical resource constraints are known as the triple constraints or the iron triangle.

The triple constraint refers to the three foremost resource constraints in project planning: cost, time, and scope.

Cost constraints

Project finances might be the most important determinant of project success since they affect every phase of resource planning. Financial constraints determine the capacity, availability, and allocation of the other resources.

For example, if you need to get highly skilled and sufficient workforce resources, the resource costs will be a central factor governing whether this is possible. If you need to bring in additional resources for temporary support to the project, again the costs will be a deciding factor. Even when selecting high-quality material for the project tasks, the cost will be one of the highest determinants.

Time constraint

Time is a critical factor in planning projects. The time allocated for projects from the planning phase to the outcome can affect the quality of the results.

Project management tools that help you track time spent on project tasks can go a long way in mitigating time constraints and ensuring timely completion of the project. Having a visual representation of resource availability helps you allocate and align your teams and resources to meet tight deadlines without compromising quality.

Scope constraint

Project scope - its size and extent - is an important factor in resource planning for project management. A clear understanding of the project scope will help you handle resource constraints and allocation without compromising the final result.

The project scope also includes the complexity of tasks involved and the skills required to meet the demand. This influences when you may need to bring in external resources to fulfill specific tasks or find new hires.

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Causes of constraints in resource management

The causes of resource constraints in project management can either be external or internal. External causes are outside the organization, while internal causes are within. The external causes can contribute to the internal ones.

Resource availability

Resource availability, accessibility, capacity, and cost can be a cause of constraint. Cost deficits can affect resource constraints, which can lead to quality constraints.

Lack of resources is an external cause, but it has an impact on the internal environment of the team. It leads to limited capacity and accessibility of things such as labor and material, which can affect projects and staff.

Quality constraint

Quality goes hand in hand with the capacity and the management of project resources. The demand for quality plays a big role in constraints, especially when there are limits in the time frame given. Quick turnarounds and tight deadlines can lead to a compromise of the finished product, especially when the project cost is limited.

Customer needs

Customer satisfaction is a key measure of project success, and achieving it can put constraints on the project resources. Typically, it comes in the form of needing high-quality results in a fixed time period with low costs - each of which represents a resource constraint!

How to handle resource constraints

As a project manager, handling the constraints in your project resources is a constant balancing act. Here are some tips experienced project managers use in practice.

Collaborate with the client

Being open with your customer about the project constraints and how these impact the outcomes is key to managing expectations. Having a strategy in place between important stakeholders during resource allocation is essential.

This collaboration should extend beyond the project planning phase. By updating the customer at regular milestones and bringing feedback on board, you can determine whether the project is progressing in the right direction and make adjustments if necessary - avoiding last-minute changes with overworked resources.

Use resource optimization tools

When you are working with limited resources, resource optimization is vital. By optimizing the resource allocation in their projects and teams, a project manager can find creative solutions to mitigate the resource constraints.

This may include, for example, deciding which projects are prioritized, or deciding which members of the team are allocated to different projects.

Always have a contingency plan

A contingency plan is a risk management tactic. It involves anticipating problem scenarios and preparing for them. Project management software tools can be useful in drawing projections during the project.

The contingency plans you need depend on the project limitations you've identified. They may include rationing materials, expanding the project team, or cutting costs.

Approach resource constraints strategically

When dealing with resource constraints, some project managers will go with the old-school approach: nose to the grindstone, more hours, more sweat. While this may bring you short-term results, it won't stick with your workforce for long.

This may seem counterproductive, but try allocating 80% of your people's time on projects, instead of 100%. As our CEO Tim puts it:

If you're pushing your team to the max all the time, there's no room for the good stuff—ideas, creativity, taking a break when needed. So, how about aiming for, let's say, 80% of the plan? Leave some space, and watch the magic unfold. Trust your people to do their thing without micromanaging every second. Instead of just focusing on how much you're putting in, think about what you're getting out. The key is aligning the work with what gets your team excited. In the beginning, you'll likely experience some financial losses, but it's worth it in the long run. Even though the team won't be going full throttle, the value they'll provide will shot up if you invest in ramping up skills and knowledge.

Key takeaway

Resource availability and project management constraints can be a challenge for project managers in their efforts to allocate resources effectively. However, by recognizing what these constraints are and why they arise, you are better prepared to mitigate them, as well as communicate them to your clients.

Runn offers real-time resource management tools with established processes for mapping out project requirements with the right resources. Try it out now and curb constraints in project management. Boost your project's success!

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