Tool: Hidden Constraint

“Hidden Constraint” thinking tool helps identify additional areas of flexibility which may not be obvious at first glance. This is a critical capability

This is how it works: when there is a hard/unsolvable trade-off or dilemma based on a certain factor (feature of component teams, for example), look for other assumptions in the system that are taken for granted, but could also be questioned (whether team boundaries should be all fixed or some can be more flexible).

Using simple and straightforward semantic analysis can be of huge leverage. Write down the sentence that describes the problem. Underline the “keywords” that directly describe the trade-off or dilemma. Go thru the rest of the sentence and for each word or phrase, try to explicitly define the meaning and implications, to see if any of those are indicative of a hidden assumption or constraint.

Let’s consider an example. Context: an organization historically struggled with component teams, suffocating under the endless load of organization-level WIP. An attempt of moving to feature teams didn’t produce much improvement as some teams didn’t have a stable load to justify their existence. The organization is stuck.

Problem statement: “We struggle to make the choice between feature and component teams.”

Let’s identify the keywords that correspond to our explicit dilemma (highlighted in red font): “We struggle to make the choice between feature and component teams.”

What other notions in the sentence left? “Teams”. By “Team” we conventionally assume a fixed group of people which in our case is incompatible with the context as business demand has too much variability, creating overly volatile demand on specific type of skill-sets. Therefore we restate the problem with a hidden constraint exposed (in blue):

“We struggle to make the choice between feature and component fixed teams.”

Such formulation is obviously suggestive of one possible course of action: allowing some team members to occasionally swarm into temporary team formations, as needed.

Finding hidden constraints is a crucial process that powers the process of Building Organizational Habits (see also Benefit-Constraint Analysis). Once identified, methods like Hybrid can be used to analyze possible ways to alter the constraint (see also Relax Constraint).

Ⓒ Org Mindset, LLC