Distinguish value and constraints

In the past I’ve spoken about the importance of a value statement. This is how we express, in quantified terms, how we measure success. Ensuring success is measurable brings huge benefits to any stream of work.

But the process of identifying our measure of success can be difficult. In doing so we may consider and discard many options, and as part of this people often ask about other things that a project is typically judged on: its cost, how long it takes, how secure the eventual solution is, how responsive it is, and so on. These aren’t the primary reason for doing what we’re doing, but they are important. Shouldn’t our value statement include these things, too?

I describe those things as constraints, and they are indeed different from the value we’re delivering. The value is the purpose, why we’re doing it, and the primary measure of success. The constraints determine how we do it—our context. We may structure our processes in line with the constraints, but cost, time, etc, are not our primary reason for doing the work.

One senior stakeholder I worked with described his particular programme of work using the analogy of driving a car. He described the value as where we were driving to, and the constraints as the lines on the road that told us where we’d veer into the grass verge.

Of course, time, cost and so on are all part of the success story—as well as the core value—and they are dependent on each other. But in terms of what our conversations need to centre on, it’s value first.