Using Constraints When Making Decisions

Updated: Apr 30

I have often said that the manager who is trying to make a decision with all the information will never make a decision. The fact is that a manager will never have all the information. Understanding and using information constraints can be helpful, done properly.

Constraints are either real or made up. For example, if you want to buy a house, you are constrained by the amount of money you have and the amount that a bank is willing to loan you. If your finances get you $100,000, then looking at a home that is worth $2 million makes no sense. Sure, the more expensive house is a better investment, has more things you want, and is probably the better choice, but the constraint prevents it.

Made up constraints tend to be used to get people to think differently. For example, a manager may say "if you had unlimited budget, what would you do to get new customers?" The idea is that it gets people to think differently which might lead to a breakthrough.

Another constraint is to take something away. For example, a manager might say "normally we have 4 weeks to release a new product, but in this case we only have 2 weeks, what would you do to speed up the process?" Again, the idea is to get people to challenge assumptions.

Managers at times need to challenge people, the key is to find the right constraint. What is your goal? What is the thing that tends to hold people back? Then build a constraint for them.