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What Are the Differences Between Time Constraints & Resource Constraints in a Project?

A project is a network of tasks to create or modify a product or service. Projects are of limited duration, lasting anywhere from a few weeks to several years. A small business may have only a couple of ongoing projects, while large businesses may have dozens of different projects. Management makes resource allocation decisions to ensure that projects end on time and on budget despite the constraints placed on them.

Time constraints refer to the limitations on the start and end times of each task in a project’s critical path, which is the sequence of tasks that cannot be delayed without delaying the entire project. Examples of time constraints include completing a prototype design in time for a client demonstration and completing a financial audit before the fiscal year-end. Resource constraints refer to the limitations on staffing, equipment and other resources that are necessary to complete a project. Examples of resource constraints include limited staff and equipment availability because of other ongoing projects in a company.

Delays in the critical steps in a time-constrained project are usually unacceptable because they can affect the project’s completion time. For example, if a retailer plans to open a new store in time for the Christmas selling season, construction and staff training should be completed ideally by the end of November. If the construction is behind schedule, training will also be delayed, which could mean lost sales. Although some delays are acceptable in resource-constrained projects, the longer a project is behind schedule, the more resources it is going to need, which could increase costs and put pressure on a company’s other projects.

The simplest way to prevent delays in time-constrained projects is to allocate additional human resources. If the additional personnel are unavailable internally, management can schedule overtime hours or hire temporary personnel from an external temporary agency. However, these measures could take resources away from other time-constrained projects and lead to cost overruns. For resource-constrained projects, management should assign priorities to internal projects and allocate resources accordingly. Management should also build in sufficient slack in the schedule to allow for limited delays due to unplanned events or illnesses.

Companies should manage project specifications carefully. An increase in the scope of one project could put pressure on costs and schedules of all other projects. For example, adding even a simple menu option to a software application could add several hours to the development and testing time, which may cause delays in the entire project. Companies should have an internal requirements management process that vets changes to project requirements and informs product managers and external clients of the schedule and cost implications.