I was describing impediments to a friend last night over a couple of beers. Hey, that’s what happens when you give a guy like me a beer. So this poor friend of mine, he’s a really sharp guy with a lot of experience with operations management and as he patiently listened to me, he said, “You mean impediments are constraints?” To which my immediate answer was, “Yes!” Impediments can and often do create bottlenecks in value streams. Anything that causes delay is an impediment, or alternatively, a constraint on the system. Therefore, we can deal with impediments and explain them using models like Goldratt’s Theory of Constraints (ToC).
So, later on, in a more meditative moment (and with a conspicuous absence of beer) I asked myself the transitive question, “Are all constraints impediments?” To which, I suspect the answer might be, “No.” There are definitely some constraints in systems that interfere with the flow of value and are fundamentally not serving the goal of helping maintain rapid delivery of value to the customer. However, there are some constraints in a system that are necessary to keep the system healthy. For instance, in some businesses like health care, finance and others, there is an audit and compliance constraint that act as constraints on the delivery of product or value. Those are constraints that are necessary to insure the ongoing health of the value stream. Otherwise, without these constraints in place, the value stream (or organization) is exposed to substantial real-world risk. We’re talking about the kind of risk that can destroy a product or company, which is unacceptable. So, I think there are some constraints that are not impediments – they are necessary for the ongoing health and performance of the organization.
Or perhaps I just found a constructive use for impediments? Oh my…