The Beauty of Constraints (or, Why Agile Works)

I recently stumbled on this video from musician Jack White and it resonated with me. It’s worth the three minutes.

In the video, he talks about inspiration, the value of putting in the work, and using constraints to force creativity. Some really insightful stuff. The way he intentionally sets up constraints to force a unique experience every time he plays is pure brilliance.

Agile has its own constraints and this is why it works. Agile principles state “business and developers must work together daily”, “deliver working software frequently”, and “welcome changing requirements.” We work within these constraints to create a healthy, collaborative, and creative environment for our teams and to respond quickly to customer needs and market dynamics.

Constraints force simplicity. Constraints force creative thinking. Constraints force you to focus.

As I started thinking how I can implement some of the insights from the video, I came up with a few ways to start embracing constraints instead of shying away from them:

Create self-imposed constraints. Discover constraints for yourself. Work within those constraints and see what emerges. The possibilities are endless: use crayons for your visual design, use a dull pencil to write, use Lego’s to explain your architectural design.

Play with guitars that don’t stay in tune. Learn (or force yourself) to enjoy working with people who are dramatically different from you. Find the value in’s there somewhere. Take your work to a strange or challenging environment. Enjoy working wherever you are. This is easier said than done but fulfilling. Note: I really struggle with this one.

No set list. Sometimes, you just need to break the monotony and experiment. Sit down and just start creating something without an end result in mind. There is value in wandering from time to time.

When everything is perfect nothing happens.


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6 thoughts on “The Beauty of Constraints (or, Why Agile Works)

  1. Another constraint that is common to agile software development springs to mind for me, that is Index Cards. Their limited size forces us to be concise with what we write on them. In my experience the flow on effects from the constraints surrounding Index Cards are always positive.