The constraint of knowledge work

Is the ability to discover knowledge.

"Any improvement not made at the constraint is an illusion.”~ Eliyahu M. Goldratt [1]

Every system must have a constraint that limits its output. We know this because no system has infinite output. As Goldratt defined, a constraint is “anything that limits a system from achieving higher performance versus its goal.”[1]. In other words, the constraint is what, if we had more of it, would generate higher output?

Let's try a thought experiment. Imagine a successfully delivered software development project. If the same team of developers repeat the same project within the same organizational constraints would it take longer? Of course not - we would expect it to take less time. Our expectation is based on the assumption that on the second time the team would already know everything they learned during the first run of the project. They would know "what" to develop and "how to" develop the "what". The reason the team needed more time to finish the project the first time was that they lacked the knowledge needed. On the second time when they have the knowledge they would be more productive. What they didn't know was the impediment.

The biggest impediment to productivity is the lack of knowledge, the missing information about specific aspects of the problem at hand.

Knowledge is invisible, but as Drucker noted that a very large number of knowledge workers do both knowledge work and manual work[2]. He called those people “technologists” and stated they may be the single biggest group of knowledge workers. As examples for technologists Drucker provided surgeons, office clerks and dentists[2]. The first example I could think of are the IT jobs in general and software developers in particular. Manual work e.g. typing, results in tangible output which is visible.

As we found out with the thought experiment what we need more of is knowledge. We gain more knowledge per unit time when we acquire more missing information per unit time. Therefore what was the actual constraint on that knowledge work? It wasn't the typing. It was the learning and creation of new knowledge.

The process of Knowledge discovery is the constraint.

Any improvement not at the constraint is an illusion. Improve anything but the bottleneck, and you've made the whole system worse. Focusing improvement efforts to better utilize the constraint is the fastest and most effective way to improve productivity. If a local change helps us better exploit the limited capability of a constraint or help to elevate it, it will benefit the whole organization.

Manage your constraint, or it will manage you!

Understanding and managing the constraint is a powerful tool for improving the productivity of your organization. We simply can't commit to achieve more than the constraint's existing capability until such time as we elevate the constraint's potential.

How could you know if your efforts at better exploiting and elevating the constraint are successful? By using all the reporting functionality KEDEHub provides us with. You can check the Knowledge Discovery Efficiency (KEDE) on a daily basis if needed. The best is to check on a weekly basis and report every Monday.

With the body of knowledge behind KEDE we have an accurate causal understanding that allows us to plan and carry on interventions and then quantitatively check the results.

KEDE provides us with guidance on what needs to be changed in a knowledge worker organization in order to elevate and exploit its capability and consequently improve productivity.

Works Cited

1. Goldratt, E. M. (2012). The Goal: A Process of Ongoing Improvement - 30th Anniversary Edition (3rd edition). North River Press.

2. Drucker , Peter F, “Knowledge-Worker Productivity: The Biggest Challenge,California Management Review, vol. 41, no. 2, pp. 79–94, Jan. 1999, doi: 10.2307/41165987.x

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