Tool: Benefit-Constraint Analysis

Benefit-Constraint analysis is one of the key methods for building Sustainable Practices in the enterprise. At the foundation of the Benefit-Constraint Analysis is the idea that a good practice can be viewed as a set of enabling constraints. Some examples:


Practice Constraints
Continuous Integration
  • The flow of coding is frequently interrupted by integrations
  • Can’t change scope within it
  • Must review work on a certain date
Big Room Planning
  • People are not performing their regular tasks for the duration of the planning
  • Need to force prep across the board

The use of this thinking tool is important primarily because organizations and change champions often lack clear perspective of the actual constrains a practice imposes versus the benefits it provides. This may happen as a result of overly active promotion of a practice in order to gain stakeholder buy-in. Also simple confirmation bias may cause organization’s myopia to the balance of value vs. continuous investment related to the practice. A simple Benefit-Constraint table allows to fill the gap, as the following example demonstrates:

Benefit-Constraint Analysis for “Prioritized Backlog”
Benefits Constraints
  • Unified input to the team’s capacity
  • Potential for economic decision-making
  • Improved response to change
  • Time and effort for refinement and (re)prioritization
  • Synchronization and consistency with other teams’ backlogs

Hidden Constraint tool can be very helpful in identifying the constraints that are not immediately obvious (especially those that are context-dependent). Importantly though, some constraints are extremely hard to identify proactively in principle and therefore speculative methods need to be coupled with empirical exploration over time.

The balance between Benefits and Constraints may (and usually does) change over time. For that matter, it is important to revise key assumptions about the practice. Overall, a Benefit-Constraint table is context-dependent: while some benefits or constraints can be common, others are very specific to the enterprise. Benefit-Constraint Analysis is very helpful to not only better understand the isolated reality of a specific practice within the enterprise but also to better understand the links between different practices (see Practice Maps) as well as the connections between practices and Organizational Drivers.

One frequent type of constraints—usually negative—can be induced by the organization’s propensity to follow the Path of Least Resistance. So, in our example of “Prioritized Backlog”, we may have an organization falling into a trap of unvalidated decision making. The backlog itself may create a false impression of full-fledged Agile decision making and distract the enterprise from maintaining constant contact with the customer and other external stakeholders. Instead the organization just continues to pour items into the backlog and speculatively prioritize them, performing in that way the easy job rather than the one that is needed but is harder to do.


Ⓒ Org Mindset, LLC