On a client’s website, they rightfully explain that their technology frees their customers of certain constraints. What exactly do we mean by constraints and are they a totally bad thing?
We all want more freedom. A constraint would seem, by definition, to be something that robs us of freedom. But what we need to do is distinguish between what is an obstacle, a barrier to what we want to achieve, and what is a constraint, i.e. a leverage point we can use to achieve more.
The opportunity of a constraint
We can thank Dr. Eli Goldratt for developing the Theory of Constraints and showing us what a phenomenal opportunity a constraint is when it’s managed properly. That’s because every system has a constraint. There is no getting around this. It is the element that limits the performance of the system towards achieving its goal. We can ignore the constraint but it won’t ignore us. But when we identify it, we have the possibility to enhance the overall performance of the entire system by using the constraint as a focusing point, by gearing all the processes to feed the constraint and keep it working to its maximum, because a minute of constraint time lost is a minute lost to the entire system.
We can summarize the main kinds of constraints in an organization as:
- Resource and capacity constraints
- Time constraints
- Policy constraints
- Sales constraints
- Marketing constraints
- Organization (structure) constraints
- Human behavior constraints
Each of these constraints can be addressed with a precise solution from the Theory of Constraints. However, perhaps the most subtle and paralyzing constraints are those that are not physical but related to the way people think (or don’t). A constraint can be our inability to get to the core of an issue. But this very inability can become a gateway to innovation. By carefully examining the core conflict that keeps an organization stuck, and there is a powerful Thinking Process Tool for this called the ‘Core Conflict Cloud’, we can verbalize all the flawed assumptions getting in our way. This process directly addresses the ‘cognitive constraint’ of an organization, and when correctly conducted it opens up a six lane highway for a breakthrough, innovative solution. This solution can take the organization to whole new level that was previously beyond reach.
So the next time you’re feeling constrained, ask yourself if what you’re experiencing is simply an obstacle, or a real constraint. You might just have stumbled on the secret ingredient of your next innovation.
Here’s a quick video with an extract from our business novel ‘The Human Constraint’ on just that subject – what is a constraint? It’s narrated by the co-hosts of the Human Current Podcast.
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About the Author
Angela Montgomery Ph.D. is Partner and Co-founder of Intelligent Management, founded by Dr. Domenico Lepore. She is co-author with Dr. Domenico Lepore and Dr. Giovanni Siepe of ‘Quality, Involvement, Flow: The Systemic Organization’ from CRC Press, New York. Angela’s new business novel+ website The Human Constraint looks at how Deming and the Theory of Constraints can create the organization of the future, based on collaboration, network and social innovation.