Understanding Constraints

There are two consistent ingredients in successful technology projects:

  1. The project team places a deep emphasis on completely understanding, unpacking and respecting the real-world constraints on the business and project. There was a reluctance to trust simple answers.
  2. There is a strong bias to action

The truth is, the right solutions end up being composed of a mix of best practices, off the shelf tools, and existing technology combined with dogged problem solving, hacks and new ideas. It's rarely the result of applying a simple "ah-ha" answer.

I call this process of discovery "creative assembly" and it's at the heart of driving performance. It's an intentional, active and creative act.

Intuitively this makes sense. Complex things are messy. If it isn't, it's probably because you got lucky or you're wrong.

Where teams get stuck is that they start to place too much emphasis on the net new things (technology, techniques, hiring) and skip over the existing realities (embedded tools, workflows, market). Every company is different, but they all have hidden constraints.

To borrow from mathematics a bit, it's better to think of creative assembly as a combinatorial process. Meaning that most of the obstacles are problems of selection, arrangement, and operation within a finite system of constraints.

Innovation is a result of the discovering the right combination of things, not changing the elements that make it up. Choosing how and what to mix (and in what order) is at the centre of a successful strategy.

Get to know your constraints. The progress will follow.