The Advantage of Constraints

Scarcity. Limitations. Restrictions. Consider all of these constraints against overwhelming demand for business and technology solutions. Who would have thought that these conditions would propel this team towards freedom, amplified creativity and to deliver beyond expectations?

I am an experienced hand in prioritizing business initiatives across the Enterprise, so I wrote about my approach in a previous blog “Prioritisation Gridlock: Finding Your Way Out”. I often adapt this approach to the business situation and culture, but it wasn’t until it was strenuously tested and challenged by scarcity, limitations, and many, many restrictions, that I appreciated how constraints are a beautiful advantage after all.

Constraints give freedom by providing boundaries.

Constraints spark #transformational thinking, ‘going outside the norm’, moving away from the ‘copy paste’ mentality that often affect less-resourced teams.

Constraints engender extreme focus when the options are very few or when there are none.

No Meandering / No Digression Allowed

Constraints limit the potential to meander or digress from our goals. Maintaining discipline is hard for many of us when various solution avenues and ‘trains of thought’ can be pursued, offering diverse and divergent pathways, whereas constraints provide natural boundaries, with diversions and digressions clearly marked out before it is too late.

For example, if there are only three months to deliver the solution to meet a business-critical need (such as a new store opening that has been set, a new product launch, a public announcement, a financial milestone dictated by law), then adding to or diverging from scope is a lot easier to fend off.

Transformational Thinking

Constraints limit the number of clear solutions but, counter-intuitively, it also spurs creativity and transformational thinking by such scarcity.

When there are no resources to deliver a customised interface layer to meet complex security controls for internal and external users, we have two choices: give up or apply transformational thinking; the kind that does not follow the way things have been done.

The scarcity spurs creativity to explore other solutions, going back to the basics of the business need, then producing a solution that is beautiful in its simplicity and adherence to architecture and design principles. The customisation path is averted, the path often taken by other companies with such resources according to the technology vendor.

Extreme Focus

Constraints channel our focus, that is our time, attention and energy spent on the endeavour.

If the expert resources with deep business knowledge are few, then assigning them to the projects that will deliver the most business value becomes the prevailing and significant decision, after which all other projects will have to wait or be rejected.

The challenge in prioritization is often that similarly good things are weighed against each other. The lens of constraints sharpen focus because the question becomes “If we need that project to be part of this year’s roadmap, then which one would it displace?” Such discussions are usually clear-headed and mentally-sharpening.

Constraints in Daily Life

We face constraints in daily life. There are only 24 hours in a day and as many meetings we can schedule. We have finite financial resources. There are roads and road rules we must follow. There is a fixed number of seats on the bus (or the car), and if we can’t fit, that’s it. There is only so much we can eat (without getting sick) or play (without giving up other things) or sleep (without missing so much of life).

Rather than be dismayed or frustrated at these constraints, how about working with these scarcities, limitations and restrictions?

Why not use constraints to protect you from meandering away from your life goals. Marshall constraints to approach problem-solving in novel ways. Form constraints and be fastidious about how you spend time, attention and energy to daily activities.

Constraints are your advantage. Grab it with both hands.

This post was first published on LinkedIn.

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