“Constraint” is most often an excuse rather than a constraint. In fact, there are very few true constraints, with most of them living in the domain of physics.
A constraint is when something cannot be done. It’s not when something is difficult, complex, or unknown. And, it’s not when the options are costly, big, or ugly. There are no options with a true constraint. Nothing you can do.
The Physical Constraint
If your new product requires one of its moving parts to go faster than the speed of light, that’s a physical constraint (and not a good idea). If your new technology requires a material that’s stronger than the strongest on record, that’s a constraint (and, also, not a good idea). If your new manufacturing process consumes more water than your continent can spare, that’s a constraint. (This may not be a true constraint in the physics sense, but it’s damn close.) Don’t try to overpower the physical constraint – you can’t beat Mother Nature. The best you can do is wrestle her to a tie, then, when you tire, she pins you.
The Legal Constraint
If your approach violates a law, that’s a legal constraint. Not a true constraint in a physical sense, as there are options. You can change your approach so the law is not violated (maybe to a more costly approach), you can lobby for a law change (may take a while, but it’s an option), or you can break the law and roll the dice. To be clear, I don’t recommend this, just wanted to point out that there are options. Options exist when something is not a constraint, though the consequences can be most undesirable, severe, and may not fit with who we are.
The Emotional Constraint
If a person in power self-declares something as a constraint, decides there are no options, that’s an emotional constraint. Not a true constraint in a physical sense, but the most dangerous of the triad. When there is no balance in the balance of power, or the consequences of pushing are severe, the self-declared emotional constraint stands – there are no options. Like with the speed of light, where adding energy cannot overcome the speed constraint, adding reasoning energy cannot overcome the emotional constraint. I argue that most constraints are emotional.
Physical and legal constraints are relatively easy to see and navigate, but the emotional constraint is something different altogether. Difficult to see, difficult to predict, and difficult to overcome. Person-based rather than physics or law-based.
Strategies to overcome emotional constraints must be based on the particulars of the person declaring the constraint. However, there is one truism to all successful strategies: Just as the person in power is the only one who can convince himself something is a constraint, he is also the only one who can convince himself otherwise.
Dr. Mike Shipulski (certfied TRIZ practioner) brings together the best of TRIZ, Axiomatic Design, Design for Manufacturing and Assembly (2006 DFMA Contributer of the Year), and lean to develop new products and technologies. His blog can be found at Shipulski On Design.