Everything is about speed – speed through process reengineering, waste elimination, standardization, modularity, design reuse. All valid, but not all that powerful. Real speed comes from avoiding rapid progress in the wrong direction, from avoiding a blistering pace on the wrong stuff. Real speed comes from saying no to the work that creates drag in order to say yes to work that accelerates.
It’s healthy to have time limits and due dates, finite resources, and budgets. These constraints are helpful because they force a cutoff decision: what work will get done and what won’t. And thankfully, all businesses have them – take them away and eliminate all hope of profitability and sustainability. But from a speed perspective, sometime we look at them in a backward way.
Yes, that work would change the game, but we don’t have time. That argument is a little misleading. Truth is, there’s the same amount of time as last year – a week is still a week, and there are still 52 of them in a year. It’s not about time; it’s about the work done during that time. With a backwards view, the constraint calls attention to work won’t get done, but the constraint is really about work that will get done. If the work that doesn’t make the cut is less magical than the work that does, the constraint creates a speed problem – too slow on the game-changing work. The speed problem is realized when the new kid on the block makes magic and you don’t. If the constraint helps say yes to magic and no to lesser work, there’s no speed problem.
Yes, we could reinvent the industry, but we don’t have resources. No, we have resources. But the constraint isn’t really about resources, it’s about the work. And not any old work, the constraint is about the work that will get done. (Not the work that won’t.) If the constraint causes us to stuff our fingers in the holes in the dyke at the expense of eliminating it altogether, the constraint caused a speed problem. It’s a problem because while we’re plugging holes, an eager competitor will dismantle the need for the dyke. Speed problem.
Sure, we’d leapfrog the competition, but we don’t have the budget. No, we have a budget. But, like the other constraints, the budgetary one is also about the work that will get done. If the constraint prioritizes same-as-last-time over crazy, it creates a speed problem. New competitors who don’t have to protect the old guard products will work on crazy and bring it to market. And that’s a problem because you’ll have more of what you’ve always had and they’ll have crazy.
Yes, in all cases, choose the bigger bet. Choose crazy over sane, magical over mundane, and irregular over regular. And choose that way because it’s faster. And here’s why faster is king: The number of countries with a well educated work force is growing; there’s an ever increasing number of micro companies who can afford to bet on disruptive technologies; and the internet has shown the world how their lives could be and created several billion people who will use their parental fortitude to do whatever it takes to make life better for their kids. (And there’s no stronger force on earth.) And it all sums to an incredible amount of emotional energy relentlessly pushing the pace.
The world isn’t just getting faster, it’s accelerating – yes, next month will be faster than this month, but that’s not the real trick with acceleration. With acceleration the faster things get, the faster they get faster. Is there really any question how to use your constraints?
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Mike Shipulski brings together people, culture, and tools to change engineering behavior. He writes daily on Twitter as @MikeShipulski and weekly on his blog Shipulski On Design.