Bottlenecks are one of the oldest and most persistent problems companies face.
Your employees work hard, and your office is a beehive of activity. Departments constantly create and share information, and you have some of the latest productivity apps to speed operations along.
And yet, things just. Aren’t. Working. At least, not as efficiently as they should be.
Somewhere along the line, there must be a bottleneck. But how can you find and eliminate it?
ASK THE FIVE WHYS
Start by paying attention to the signs. Red flags may include backlogged work, employee complaints about delays, paperwork pileups or material backups. Where there is stress, there is usually a bottleneck.
Sakichi Toyoda, the founder of Toyota, developed a technique called the “Five Whys” to solve these types of productivity-killers.
First, look at the problem you want to address. Then work backward, examining each step in the process and asking “Why?” until you find the root cause. It sounds simple, but it works.
Consider this example. Say your organization arranged several months ago to publish a thought leadership piece in a major online journal, but you haven’t seen it yet. Want to know what happened? Find the person in the marketing department who had the original idea and ask about the status. If they say the piece is not scheduled for publication for another month, ask your Why. The answer may be that is hasn’t gotten approval yet. Why not? Apparently, there was some disagreement within the department about the angle of the piece. Why hasn’t it been resolved? Because one of the key players is on vacation.
Isn’t there anyone else who can help make a decision?
Of course there is. Authorize them to do it, give the group a deadline, and you’ve solved the bottleneck.
Many bottlenecks are the result of communication problems like this. Others are the result of processes that can be improved. According to a survey by Bonitasoft, a business process management software company, two of the most common business bottlenecks are:
1) having confusing processes, and
2) having too many processes.
Other bottlenecks may be institutional, and harder to crack.
Dan Rockwell, who writes the blog Leadership Freak, recalls suggesting a web application to an operations director. The director was avidly interested at first, but later changed his mind, saying, “If it means our IT department has to create or do something new, we can’t do it.”
“I immediately knew the IT department was the place where that company’s ‘unfinished goods’ piled up and production stalled,” Rockwell writes.
Could your IT department be causing bottlenecks? If you’re hearing complaints from employees about slow systems or processes, the answer may be yes. Here is a checklist of areas where IT congestion often occurs. Pass it on to your department.
Of course, chances are, IT already has suspicions about what’s slowing things down. The key to preventing bottlenecks that affect your organization is to follow up to make sure they make progress towards fixing it.
COULD YOU BE THE BOTTLENECK?
“If you’ve been playing poker for half an hour and you still don’t know who the patsy is, you’re the patsy.” – Warren Buffett
Let’s face it: managers can be bottlenecks, too, and they’re often the last to know it.
Take a hard look in the mirror. Are you often slow to finish your part of a project? Are you so swamped with work that you sometimes lose track of priorities? Do you let approvals pile up?
If this is hitting close to home, project management company Sandglaz has several wise suggestions you should consider:
- Clarify expectations among your teammates and their expectations from you.
- Communicate proactively.
- Share information with apps and communication tools.
- Review your processes — you may be able to replace outdated ones and operate more efficiently.
- Accept suggestions. When you’re immersed in your own tasks, you may not be able to spot bottlenecks as well as others.
With workflow automation tools and a plethora of new ways to communicate and share information, the new world of work is no place for bottlenecks. It’s time to take a hard look at your company’s workflow and correct areas where work is stalling. Your beehive will thank you for it.
Looking for help identifying the bottlenecks in your business processes? Click Here to work with the experts at Imagetek.