The November 2007 Harvard Business Review has an interesting article on knowledge sharing and interface constraints: Are Your Engineers Talking to One Another When They Should? (links to an excerpt and the offer to buy a full copy - head to your library!)
Cost overruns, schedule slippage, and quality problems often result from a failure to provide timely information or resources. Here’s a way to help prevent that from happening.
by Manuel E. Sosa, Steven D. Eppinger, and Craig M. Rowles
The overall article takes an interesting approach to analyzing communications in large project environments: things like building a new Pratt & Whitney jet engine. With large projects, there are tens and hundreds of sub-teams that are responsible for specific aspects of the system. And good companies set up communications structures so that the teams work with each other along important tie-lines (interfaces). But there are always missed interfaces. How do these impact the overall success of the project? It really depends on the kind of oversight you have as interface issues arise. The paper provides some guidelines on how to deal with the mismatches, but there really is no way to prevent them altogether.
I have read about the idea of interfaces in a number of places. They happen in information technology, physical goods (the Apollo 13 space mission is a classic interface issue), etc. Interface constraints can help you when you are a market leader, but they get in the way if you are a commodity.
John Ricketts brings up the idea of "interface constraints" in his Reaching the Goal (I've recently reviewed this book). The general idea is that any time there is an interface between business units or organizations there is the opportunity for legal, political or other constraints to arise and limit the ability of the groups to work together. Some of these we want, and some we don't. But the key is to acknowledge that they exist, so you can ask the questions. I wonder if these are a specialized form of "obstacles" in more traditional Theory of Constraints-speak?