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DataJul 21, 2016

Constraints Are Good

Jason Goth

I recently went on vacation with my family to visit friends in California. While we were there, we took a tour of the historic Hearst Castle. Built between 1919 and 1947 at a cost that would be over $500 million in today’s dollars, it’s absolutely remarkable: 165 rooms, an indoor and outdoor pool, art by Renaissance masters, a mosaic floor from the third century, a complete Roman Temple, a private zoo, and the list goes on.

But the thing that struck me the most was that Hearst Castle is unfinished! That’s right, almost a third of the “Casa Grande” was unfinished at Hearst’s death and left that way.

How could someone spend 28 years and hundreds of millions of dollars and still not finish their “ranch”? It’s easy: Hearst had no constraints. He had virtually unlimited budget, an unlimited labor pool (much of the house was built during the depression), no deadlines to meet, no hardships for delays, etc.

Most people and most businesses don’t have that luxury. Virtually all resources are constrained: money, people, resources, and especially time. Like most people, we lament our constraints: if only we had more budget, more time, or more whatever, we’d be able to finish what we started.

Maybe, maybe not. Maybe constraints aren’t bad. Maybe they force us to:

  • Make hard choices.

  • Get creative.

  • Focus time and energy on important things.

There are many examples where constraints have produced incredible results (Mars Pathfinder, Amazon’s “Two Pizza Teams,” etc.) At Credera, we use constraints to help with most of our efforts. These constraints come in many forms:

  • Time boxing tasks such as software design efforts or third-party research.

  • Limiting options (on user experience design, vendor selection, etc.).

  • Reducing scope.

  • Adhering to budget.

  • Prototyping solutions (with limited time of course).

  • Regulatory/compliance constraints.

All of these help move the project forward in some way. So the next time you feel like your constraints are holding you back, embrace them. One of them may just be the reason you succeed.

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