Wednesday March 3, 2004

Constraints

Have you ever noticed how so many decisions and problem solutions are based on certain constraints... and yet, after you've made the decision, you often discover that some of what you thought were constraints on the problem weren't real?

For example, we recently re-floored our kitchen and dining room. To do this, we had to first remove the baseboard molding. We did this carefully, marking each piece as we planned to put it back. Then we said to ourselves, "Hmm... I wonder if we could buy new molding, something pre-finished that looks nicer and newer?" and we went to the store to look. And lo and behold, yes, the store sold pre-cut, pre-fab, pre-fnished molding strips in 3 shades (white, natural, and "stained", in several price and "grain" levels, and many pattern styles.

Well, we were replacing our existing molding, so we calculated linear footage, added 15% for learning, and bought 13 strips in exactly the same style as what we were replacing. Then we went home and installed the new floor.

After finishing the floor we discovered two things:

  1. The room isn't exactly square and we're not perfect; thus the required 1/4" gap between the ends of the boards and the wall is, occasionally, more like 3/8 ".

  2. I don't actually like the style of our former baseboard molding.
We ended up taking back most of the strips (we'd used some for practice) and getting a different style, slightly wider at the base, slightly taller, a slightly more "interesting" shape.

When we first bought the strips, we were working under a false constraint. We thought we were "replacing the existing molding strips"; therefore, we bought molding strips that matched the ones we were replacing.

When we went back, we had a different constraint, this time a real one: we needed molding strips that were at least 3/8 deep at the base. And, of course, we wanted to like the look. We bought something very different from what we were replacing, but it met our real constraints: it was the proper size and we liked it.

Many is the time that I have gotten halfway into a project and realized that something I'm doing is not optimal. Every decision I have made, every branch I have taken, was made "correctly" and 'reasonably" based on what I believed to be the constraints at that juncture. But several branches into the project I will realize that some of those constraints were false, or were based on false assumptions, or were based solely on previous decisions which could have gone either way. And by backing up and remaking some of the previous decisions, I reach a better final conclusion (also matching the "real" constraints) that I'm much happier with.

I've realized over time that this happens to me a lot. Does it happen to you?

Constraints ( in category Random Thoughts ) - posted at Wed, 03 Mar, 18:41 Pacific | «e»