To deal with complex situations (and projects are always complex) we need models that focus our attention on the relevant aspects of the situation we have to deal with. Models are always simplifications, otherwise they would be of no use, but it is important that the simplification is appropriate in terms of the objectives.
An important model is the distinction between objectives, constraints and measures.
Objectives are those characteristics that, for example, the project outcome should have when the project has been successfully completed. This typically involves the so-called magic triangle of project management, namely result, deadline and effort.
Measures are those options for action that the project manager, a certain team member, or the project client can decide on or actually decides on.
Constraints are those circumstances which either cannot or should not be influenced in the given situation, but which are important for the achievement of the set goals. They therefore influence the effectiveness of measures.
To clarify the difference between goals and measures, one could say:
Objectives are statements about which problems are to be solved.
Measures are possible solutions to these problems.
This distinction is not universal, however, but is different for each person or organizational unit; it is obvious that the project client has options for action that become constraints for the project manager. Bringing about such action is a goal for the project manager, which he or she seeks to bring about as an action, e.g. through information and arguments.
Do not confuse goals with constraints or action points
In every situation, and especially in a critical project situation, one should clearly distinguish between what is the goal (problem) and what is the measure (solution) considered appropriate. If one solution does not bring the hoped-for result, one will have to look for other solutions, but cannot exchange the problem for another.
Constraints are thus less variable compared to measures: the constraints because they are beyond the influence of the acting person; the goals because they contain the actual purpose of the action (their „ultima ratio“). Measures, on the other hand, are highly interchangeable. If there are different ways of achieving a goal, one will choose the one that leads to the goal most safely and with the least effort under the given conditions. Mixing objectives and measures, on the other hand, leads to measures becoming an end in themselves. For example, deadlines are often set for a project without defining suitable measures that make it possible to meet the deadline under the given conditions.
It is also a permissible measure to postpone the deadline, increase the budget and reduce the result expectations, it only has to be clear who can recognize these measures as sensible or necessary, but can only actually implement them by influencing others (in this case probably the project client). The project manager’s measure in this case is therefore to push through such a measure in the project committees responsible for it.
This also shows that a factor that was previously considered a constraints (result, deadline, budget) can become the object of a measure that has the goal of changing this constraint.
This probably sounds rather theoretical, but in practice it is of decisive importance for success. Only if I can clearly see in every situation what my goals are, what my constraints are and what my options for action (i.e. possible measures) are, will I manage to quickly find out what I can do now to lead a project to success.