Monday, August 26, 2013

Digging The Dirt Of Your Deep Rooted Constraints


Your brain does this naturally, but the ready-fire-aim, everything’s late, drag racing culture increases the pace your brain builds walls and turns up the cloaking power to eleven.

What you need to do is take a step back, give yourself some time, and breathe. And this medicinal pause cannot be done at home on personal time - it must be done on the job during the regular day and on company time.

And it cannot be done in meetings, not at lunch, and not during your work day commute.

But this is not enough. You need active digging to uncover buried assumptions and deep rooted constraints. And you have to know what they look like as your shovel scrapes, scratches, and clanks through the dirt.

Here are a few:

- Your new product must do everything the last one did, and more; it must serve the same broad market and establish new ones; and it must replace three legacy products and work flawlessly on all continents.

- Crushing constraints and skinning assumptions demands new language. Instead of more, think less; instead of broad, think narrow; and instead of what it will do, think what it won’t do.

You don’t have to dig deeply to find your fundamental constraints and assumptions. In fact they are hiding in plain sight. Like miles per gallon and cost per pound, think about what you spend your day improving - think about what you’ve always improved.

- Think about what makes your product successful. Think about what’s front-and-center in your marketing literature. Your self-made constraints have become intimately attached to the things that made you successful.

And like old keys on your key chain, they’re awkward, they get in the way, and they don’t start your car, but you carry them with you without questioning why.

Next week, take a half day and ask yourself - What’s possible if you give ground on the very thing that’s made you great? What’s possible if you serve only a narrow (but juicy) slice of the market? What’s possible if your new product does less but does more for the developing market?

I don’t know the answer to those questions, but I know one thing - if you don’t try, nothing is possible.

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.

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