Criteria Vs Constraints

Criteria Vs Constraints: Understanding the Difference

In any decision-making process, it is essential to understand the difference between criteria and constraints. Although the two terms share similar characteristics, they have distinct meanings that can significantly impact the outcome of any given situation.

Criteria can be defined as the standards or benchmarks that are used to measure the success or effectiveness of a given action or decision. In other words, criteria represent the goals that one is trying to achieve, with benchmarks along the way to measure progress. For example, a company may have a list of criteria that it wants to meet in its hiring process, such as a college degree, relevant experience, or other attributes.

On the other hand, constraints refer to any limiting factors that could impact the decision-making process or the actions themselves. These constraints may be related to time, money, resources, or other various factors that may limit the available options. An example of a constraint might be a budget limit that prohibits a company from spending more on a project than what is available.

Criteria and constraints can be viewed in different perspectives, depending on the context. However, the key difference between them is the focus. Criteria are focused on defining what success looks like, while constraints focus on what is allowed or permissible. While the two concepts may seem similar, they have distinct roles in any decision-making process.

Understanding the Role of Criteria

Criteria play a vital role in decision-making. They help to establish a clear definition of success and guide individuals or organizations in their efforts toward achieving goals. When defining criteria, it is essential to consider the end-goal, the steps required to achieve it, and any measurements required to determine progress and success.

Criteria help people and organizations to:

1. Identify clear goals: Having defined criteria helps to establish clear and well-defined goals. This clarity can help to drive motivation, focus, and progress towards the goal.

2. Evaluate success: The criteria help to evaluate the success of the action or decision. It establishes a measurable standard and allows individuals or organizations to compare the actual outcomes with the desired outcomes.

3. Prioritize actions: Focusing on the criteria helps to prioritize actions, ensuring that all decisions align with the established goals.

4. Develop a comprehensive strategy: Criteria allow individuals or organizations to develop a comprehensive strategy because it helps to define specific goals and the steps required to achieve them.

Understanding the Role of Constraints

Constraints also play a pivotal role in any decision-making process. They help to set limits around what is possible while ensuring that the decision or action remains feasible, realistic and responsible. A critical aspect of constraints is that they force individuals or organizations to take responsibility for their decisions and actions.

Constraints help people and organizations to:

1. Set realistic expectations: Constraints can help individuals or organizations to set realistic expectations about what is achievable, which helps to avoid setting unrealistic goals and leading to disappointment.

2. Focus on priorities: Constraints can help to ensure that priorities are set and that critical decisions are made based on what is most important.

3. Identify opportunities: Constraints can help individuals or organizations to identify opportunities and limitations associated with them.

4. Make responsible decisions: Constraints help to ensure that decisions are responsible and aligned with the available resources and constraints.

Criteria Vs Constraints: A Comparison

The table below compares and contrasts criteria and constraints.

Criteria | Constraints
— | —
Aims to define a clear outcome that is desirable | Puts limits around what is possible or allowable
Helps to set goals and priorities | Provides practical considerations to guide decisions
Can be viewed as a positive and aspirational tool | Can be viewed as limiting and restrictive
Helps to guide progress and measure success | Helps to avoid unrealistic expectations and potential failure
Focuses on what we want to achieve | Focuses on what we can’t exceed or go beyond
May change over time as goals change | Often outside of our control
Relational with our needs, interests, and values | Relational with resources and limitations

Frequently Asked Questions

1. Can criteria and constraints be used interchangeably?

No, criteria and constraints play distinct roles in any decision-making process. While they may seem similar, they focus on different aspects of the decision-making process.

2. Can criteria or constraints change over time?

Yes, both criteria, and constraints can change over time as the goals and available resources change. It is essential to evaluate and adjust them regularly.

3. Can criteria and constraints coexist?

Yes, criteria and constraints can coexist, and in fact, often do. Many decisions require individuals or organizations to balance criteria and constraints to achieve their desired outcomes.

4. Is one more important than the other?

No, both criteria and constraints are equally important in any decision-making process. They work together to ensure that the decision or action is feasible, realistic, responsible, and aligned with the desired outcomes.


In conclusion, criteria and constraints are two essential concepts that play significant roles in any decision-making process. While they have similar characteristics, they are distinct in their focus and functionality. Understanding the differences between the two can help individuals or organizations to make more informed and responsible decisions. By prioritizing both criteria and constraints equally, organizations can confidently move towards achieving their goals while remaining realistic, feasible and responsible.