Bottlenecks. Every business has them. Business bottlenecks are the points in your company where work gets hung up and progress is impeded. It could be a report that's never ready when you need it. It could be the hungry customer at the bar whose burger gets cold because the bartender is too busy making mojitos for other servers' tables. It could be your accounts receivable person who doesn't have any work to do until the mail arrives, and then he ends up stressed out because he's slammed all at once.
Although business bottlenecks can be common, it doesn't mean we should be complacent. Bottlenecks may pose a challenge to your problem-solving skills, but they can also represent enormous opportunities. By resolving your business bottlenecks, you can help improve your company's efficiency. Here's how I tackle my bottlenecks:
1. Get to the root of your business bottlenecks.
Just like a weed, if you simply attack the obvious part, you stand a very good chance of having that weed return to plague you. It's only when you get to the root cause of your business bottlenecks that you can formulate a real solution.
One of the best tactics for root cause analysis is simply to ask why until you arrive at what you seek. For example, why is the hungry customer waiting for food? Because the bartender is too busy to go fetch it. Why is the bartender too busy? Because the mojito special for happy hour means she's up to her elbows in rum and mint and she's slicing limes like there's no tomorrow. Why is she slicing the limes as she needs them? Because the daytime bartender didn't get them sliced ahead. Why? Because the lime delivery didn't come in until 4:30. Why? Because the manager who orders the limes is new and didn't know to order heavier early in the week so the bar wouldn't run out of limes.
Now you know what the real cause of the problem is, and the fix—ordering more limes earlier in the week—presents itself.
2. Break down your workflow.
When you're trying to figure out why a finished product is taking longer than it should, it can also be helpful to trace that product's journey through your company.
Sometimes it can be trickier than you realize to figure out why you never have a month-end report on time, but if you walk that report back through all the folks who contribute to it, you can identify precisely where the holdup is. Knowing at what point in your workflow business bottlenecks occur can help in resolving them.
3. Do some competitive analysis.
Many business bottlenecks are particular to a given industry. Rather than trying to reinvent the wheel, sometimes the most elegant solution is to take a look at your competitors to see how they resolve their challenges.
4. Think outside the box.
Not every bottleneck is a challenge that must be solved.
Take the mojito example: While you probably could manage the produce ordering better in your hypothetical restaurant, you could also simply eliminate ridiculously labor intensive cocktails from your happy hour menu. Why tie your bartender up muddling mint and squeezing limes when you could feature a Moscow Mule that only requires three ingredients? You don't have to solve problems if you can avoid them altogether.
5. Reroute to avoid creating business bottlenecks.
Take your accounts receivable guy who has to wait around for the mail to arrive before he can start opening envelopes and processing checks. Your mailman isn't going to magically start arriving earlier. You can't bring your A/R guy in at 2 p.m. because you need to close the office by 6 p.m.
How do you fix this bottleneck? You go around it. Switch your clients to electronic billing, and there's no more waiting for paper checks. Be willing to envision different workflows, and your ingenuity may translate to efficiency.
Business bottlenecks are limiting forces. They can keep you from growing, and they can drag down your productivity. And that's precisely why it's so important to roll up your sleeves and get down to the root and resolve your bottlenecks. Streamline your processes, and you're ready to grow and scale your business.
Read more articles on organizational productivity.