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The Three Constraints of Software Development

The three constraints of software development are the essential elements of this process. They dictate what is needed and what should be prioritized during software development and project management.

Software development in itself is complex but managing software projects can be an even more difficult task when dealing with constant changes, understanding the bigger picture of the project, and assessing current company culture and how that can either hurt the progression of the project or help it be successful. The three constraints of software development are the essential elements of this process. They dictate what is needed and what should be prioritized during software development and project management.  

Every project has these three constraints:  

Time 

It takes time to build good software. Time is one thing we can never have enough of or ever get more of, so we utilize people and their time to get the project done. During the development process, the software developer or engineer needs focused time.  

Maker vs. Manager Concept: A manager can go to meeting after meeting and have very few issues. The context they need to know is in that meeting. A maker views long stretches of deep quality time as crucial to their work process. Limited distractions are needed to keep focused and efficient. When managing a project, it’s easy to blur the lines between being too involved and not involved enough. Giving the makers of a project (developers and engineers) allocated time to do their tasks undisturbed in their particular focused setting will help their software development be more effective. In project management, time is often not stagnant. There is sometimes no way to estimate the duration of a project- It’s really on a project-to-project basis. No project is the same no matter if you’ve done something similar or think you understand what the client needs. Always expect the unexpected and focus on managing time to effectively deploy your project.  

Cost/Budget  

How much will this cost? Not wanting to throw money at a project you don’t necessarily understand or know the final budget is completely understandable.  

Maximizing the budget available is crucial to the success of the project. Figuring out the budget helps define what can get done by when. Prioritizing what’s important when dealing with budgets helps release the best software possible for the particular budget and time. Throwing money at a project doesn’t mean a project will be successful because adding money and people to a project has its overhead. It’s not linear. Just because you have able bodies who can do the work, doesn’t mean the project will reach the level of success you’re looking for. Just because you add more people to the team doesn’t mean the project will be finished in the expected time or budget. Money is important in building software- It can help make or break the quality of code you have. But more is needed to deploy the project to your expectations.  

Quality/Features  

Quality references the number of bugs introduced, the code’s maintainability, etc., and features reference what the system does.  With all software projects, you want to have a high-quality codebase. You don’t want to introduce a lot of bugs and you want to make sure the code works well and is highly maintainable. But with some projects, the feature list is too great for the time constraints and the budget. So it’s easy to lose features that help the complexities that make up the software. And with the complexity of building software comes the unknown requirements that come after starting the development process. Sometimes unexpected necessities come up and change the time and budget needed to complete the project which in turn can change the quality of your software and what it ends up doing.  

Usually, two out of these three points are used together during the development process. I always say you can’t have all three. Figuring out the right balance for your project is important because it will dictate how successful it will be. What a client chooses has everything to do with the outcome of the project.  

Focusing on time and budget: won’t get as much done and fewer features than the client want/ needs for the quality of work expected.  

Focusing on budget and features: takes way longer than anyone wants, you’re budget conscious so who is working on the project might differ (part-time employment, one full-time employee, etc.) and affects the quality of work. Time always suffers. Deadlines won’t be met.  

Focusing on features and timeline: Have a high burn rate when it comes to the budget. Have as many needed experts for the project to utilize their skills to get the project out as fast as possible with the wanted and needed features in place.  

In software development, it’s important to bring constraints to the client early. Make it clear what needs to be focused on so that potential issues are known, clients are informed and if these issues do arise, you will be ready to figure out the best solution for the project. 

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