Constraints As A Product Manager — Embrace!


Who doesn’t love the original Star Wars Trilogy? Not many.

Although I’m still not sure if I like A New Hope or Return of the Jedi better. Source: Flickr

Released 40 years ago in 1977, Star Wars: A New Hope was built around the constraints that the crew had, both from a budget and technical standpoint. Director George Lucas and his crew had to get creative and work with the constraints they had. We all know the end result.

Who loves the Prequel Trilogy? Not many.

There are many reasons that you can point to for the lesser quality of the Prequel trilogy, but I think one of the biggest culprits is the lack of constraints. Budget was never an issue, nobody questioned or put a leash on George Lucas, and anything with special effects could be done with CGI and green screens.

The result? Three films that are not remembered fondly, and were missing the heart and soul that made the original trilogy so special.

Constraints as a Product Manager:

It’s easy to think that if you only had more developers on your team, more hours in a day, more customer data, or a larger budget, you could produce a better product.

Are there valid reasons for thinking this? Depending on circumstances, absolutely. However, it’s an easy crutch to fall on instead of working with the constraints given.

There’s a lot of wisdom that we can learn from 37 Signals, creator of products like Basecamp.

From Getting Real: Embrace Constraints:

There’s never enough to go around. Not enough time. Not enough money. Not enough people.
That’s a good thing.
Instead of freaking out about these constraints, embrace them. Let them guide you. Constraints drive innovation and force focus. Instead of trying to remove them, use them to your advantage.

Don’t forget the constraints of the end product as well!

It’s easy to look at feature requests and implement them without thinking about the long term implications. What used to be a product with focus can just as easily turn into a frankenstein that has various features bolted onto it and no longer looks like the product you had envisioned and wanted it to be.

The Last Thing you want your product to be. Source: Simple Wikipedia

The Second Most Common Reason for Startups failing is running out of cash.

Here is an infographic on the reason that startups fail from Forbes.

“No Market Need” leads the charge at 42%, with “Running out of Cash” behind it at 29%. The article mentions the following:

Startups can run out of cash not just when they are underfunded, but when they receive too much and spend recklessly.

I’ve bolded the later half on emphasis. Let’s say your company just received $100 million in funding. What do you do with all that money? What do you focus on?

Now, what would happen if instead received $5 million in funding? Suddenly, you have a lot more constraints on what you can do. You’re going to get a little more creative compared to receiving $100 million.

“I think frugality drives innovation, just like other constraints do. One of the only ways to get out of a tight box is to invent your way out.”
 Jeff Bezos


Constraints can drive creativity that a blank cheque simply cannot do. You only have so many hours in a day, so many things you can focus on, only so big a budget or team etc. Instead of pushing for bigger budgets, working more hours in a day, trying to take in everything, embrace constraints. You’re going to come up with solutions more akin to George Lucas and his scrappy team back when making the original Star Wars, and not the prequel trilogy that had no constraints, but lacked the heart and soul that made the original trilogy so special.

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Originally published at on September 15, 2017.