Busting the Bottleneck

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Any improvements made anywhere besides the bottleneck are an illusion. — Gene Kim

How To Identify And Resolve Your Pinch Points

Rush hour is a cruel juxtaposition between drivers ready, willing, and able to get to their destination as quickly as possible, only to find themselves creeping along (or at a dead stop) due to traffic jams caused by the roads being over capacity and the lack of coordination or optimization of the travel plans of each individual driver.

Most of those drivers also know that by consulting Google Maps and Waze, they can discover the cause of the jam-up, their distance to it, and estimated time of delay; they can then make the decision to stick it out or take the next exit and proceed through the streets.

How motor vehicles flow through a network of highways and byways is a good analogy of how work flows through an organization. When the volume of your company’s work ramps up, and there comes a moment when a single stage becomes the rate-limiting constraint for the entire system, your first step is to locate that damn bottleneck.

And Waze won’t help.

Making Work and Workflow Visible

While the system-wide constraint may be obvious in some organizations, it’s not always apparent until the flow of work increases to the degree that the bottleneck is overloaded and potentially damaged, making things worse (e.g. a car accident causing traffic to back up even more). The following three exercises will help identify the problem area.

Exercise #1: Inventory the Four Types of Work

As organizations grow, so does the quantity and variety of projects that are being worked on simultaneously across different teams and divisions. Unfortunately, the net result is that it becomes more difficult to quantify and prioritize what is being done. Therefore, the first order of business is simply to locate this information. You can perform this exercise digitally, using a spreadsheet, but it’s much more powerful if done against a wall with index cards. Either way you’ll gain insight into your organization.


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