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Constraints Should Help, Not Hinder Projects!

chainsThink of project constraints in terms of an old fashioned horse and buggy.  It seems counter intuitive to constrain horses since their power increases with movement.  However, if no constraints were used with the horses, the buggy would get nowhere.  It may even be left behind while the horses run a muck.    The same can be said of projects and project teams.  An article by Kiron Bondale suggests that, in some cases, greater constraints can lead to greater results:

As Matthew May has detailed in his book The Laws of Subtraction, creativity thrives under intelligent constraints.  Twitter is a great example of this – upon first examination, 140 letters seems an infinitesimal length to convey something meaningful and yet in spite of high signal-to-noise ratio, there are still hundreds of brilliant tweets that have been inspired because (and not in spite) of that lengthy restriction. 

At first glance, one would assume that a project without constraints of the scheduling or financial variety would be a project manager’s dream come true.  However, as Bondale explains, four specific factors conspire to disprove this.  No time constraints could lead to infinite productivity in theory.  However, as Parkinson’s Law dictates, what is most likely to happen in reality is that focus and productivity will diminish.  The next factor, known as Gold Plating, highlights that a constant desire to tweak a project (with the idea that budget is not a factor) will lead to many unchecked and often undesirable expenses.  The third factor is the notion that being free of constraints can also mean being free of focus.  Finally, the scope of the project could grow so large without project constraints that goals become grand and unattainable.

Restraints are usually not fun or innovative, so a project team is likely to want to rebel slightly and bust out of the box made for them.  However, the alternative of letting your team run wild may make them happy momentarily, but it will certainly hinder the overall success of your project.


About Anne Grybowski

Anne is a former staff writer for CAI’s Accelerating IT Success, with a degree in Media Studies from Penn State University.

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