I recently came across quite an interesting post written by Steve Garnett where he discusses the difference between constraints and impediments inside organisations.
He comes to the following conclusion:
For me, the difference between an impediment and a constraint is whether the individual, team, organisation, enterprise, or industry considers the obstacle as removable. If whoever is working with the obstacle believes it can be removed then it is considered an impediment, if the same person doesn’t not believe it can be removed, or doesn’t wish to work towards it’s removal, it’s considered a constraint.
Over the last few years of working in various different organisations my experience is that there will always be some sort of obstacles and while I think Steve’s distinction is useful, it’s also helpful to consider whether we want to commit our time and energy to removing particular obstacles.
My former colleague Dan Bodart referred to this as 'choosing your battles' and as well as saving energy and enthusiasm by choosing to live with some obstacles it also has the benefit that people who can help us remove obstacles will be more receptive to us if we’re selective in the battles we choose to fight.
The other thing that I’ve noticed is that people in the same team have different opinions on what they consider a constraint or impediment.
For example, I wrote last year about the benefit we can get from introducing new people with fresh perspective into a situation.
I found it interesting to notice the different perspectives of the new people compared to those of people who had been there a while.
Quite frequently something which the people who’d been there a while would consider to be a constraint would be seen as an impediment by the newer guys.
Another thing that we learnt from this situation is that sometimes waiting for a while can be a useful tactic before trying to remove an obstacle.
By this time we’ll have hopefully built a bit more credibility and trust within the system that we’re trying to change.