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While it may seem counterintuitive, the existence of constraints can often lead to innovative designs and clever solutions. When designing an experience, a process, a project or product, constraints impose boundaries and limitations. It is the need to overcome these boundaries and limitations that can inspire innovation.

Constraints force a team to work together to either come up with a creative solution to side-step an impediment, or alternatively, work at solving the problem that is causing the impediment in the first place.

The role of design thinking is to help teams:

  • Identify insights about a particular situation in order to define the problem space;
  • Diverge their thinking to develop a wide range of possible solutions;
  • Test possible solutions to work out what is going to deliver the most value; and
  • Ultimately, deliver a solution that works.

Understanding constraints helps to eliminate solutions that are simply not viable, or build a strategy for the solution design that takes into account parts of the solution that may not be possible right now, but are still extremely desirable. This can empower design teams to communicate a return on the investment that is needed to remove or overcome a particular constraint.

Teams need to manage the risk of letting their knowledge of constraints hamper their thinking.  The objective is not to avoid constraints by designing solutions that play it safe, but rather to creatively overcome or remove them so that “blue sky” design thinking can be viably realised.


Identifying constraints

Constraints will present themselves as the who, what, why, how or when that underpins an inability to deliver on a product or project vision. Broadly speaking, constraints often fall into the following categories:

  • Resource: a lack or shortage of necessary tools, materials, people or skills;
  • Budget: a lack or shortage of available funds;
  • Time: the definition of a deadline that does not allow for the vision to be realised;
  • Technical: a shortfall in the capacity of the systems needed to support the solution; and
  • Policy: political, legal or procedural reasons that impact viability.


Road Mapping Constraint Resolution

While there are sure to be at least a few constraints that your team are unable to eliminate or overcome, building a roadmap that plots out the journey involved in circumventing the blockers that can be resolved is essential to the success of your vision. Once the scope of a project or product has been defined, a solid design thinking process should include the identification of constraints and the formulation of an action plan that tackles these as part of the overall roadmap.

This process may identify simple solutions or work-arounds, or could require significant changes in processes, policies, systems or behaviours. The scale of the problem statement needs to be weighed; what are the risks of taking action (or taking no action) to remove the constraint?

More importantly, what positive outcomes can be achieved, and what innovations can your organisation realise? By leveraging your team’s understanding of constraints during the design process, you can work strategically towards solutions that involve overcoming or removing them.


Melissa Khim is a Business Analyst at Outware Mobile.

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