Busting constraints is a great way to solve your problems


A behavioural scientist once commented to me, “There are two ways to solve a problem: get more options, or overcome your constraints.” Although there are other important elements in problem solving that we need to clarify (like intent, and root causes), by-and-large, this sums up the ways we ultimately think in solving a problem. We all know the brainstorming method of coming up with options to solve a problem, but these are not the focus in this article. In this post we will talk about how to overcome constraints to solve a problem.

There are basically four ways you can deal with constraints:

1. busting the constraint

2. outsourcing the constraint,

3. ignoring the constraint, or

4. avoiding the constraint altogether

Busting the constraint

In busting the constraint, we move aggressively to overcome it. If we were hampered by budget, we either marched into the CFO’s office and demanded more money because the opportunity was too huge to miss, or we try to source for more funds from outside, maybe through venture capital. Or if there was a time constraint, we could break up the deliverables so that we either bite-sized it, or we got in more resources to hit them simultaneously. Or if there was overcapacity, and there was no way to fulfill a new order without first looking at how we can maximize resource utility, we could then push for asset reduction. All of these options are ways to overcome the constraint, so that it does not influence the outcome of the decision.

Outsourcing the constraint

This method sees us passing the constraint over to a third party to fulfill such that it doesn’t impact on our decision, and our options. For example, if there was a need to maintain cleanliness in the production room, and expecting our people to halt operations just to keep the floor clean would disrupt the production throughput, then by outsourcing the floor cleaning to a third party, say, a cleaning contractor, then the production could go on unabated. Or say that you were planning a month-long vacation but have a constraint that your elderly parents have to be fed and looked after, you could either have them looked after by a family member or temporarily cared for in a home. These are all ways to take the constraint out of your considerations, getting them addressed through means outside of your situation.

Ignoring the constraint

Although travel insurance is very useful, many travellers, especially those taking short trips, prefer to save on the money spent on it, not expecting anything untoward to happen. This is an example of ignoring the constraint. These obviously have risks, but if these are quantifiable, and the payoff to ignore is larger than the downside risk, then it might be worthwhile to simply ignore it and cross that bridge, if it does arrive, when we come to it.

Avoiding the constraint

This requires a new tactic. Say that there is a great opportunity to build a learning management solution, but the time and costs are prohibitive; then the way to avoid these constraints was simply to go pen-and-paper. Some people say it is signing up for a third-party LMS would be a way to avoid the constraint, but this is not avoiding, it is outsourcing. Avoiding therefore requires a totally new option that does not feature the constraint in the situation at all.

So there you are – four ways to overcome your constraints and solve problems better. Not many people use these, but they are a very valuable source of finding solutions.

I wish you all the best!

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