Dealing with Bottlenecks

bottlenecksIf you ever attempted to pour water quickly out of a narrow-necked bottle then you can easily see why companies with flat hierarchies (picture a bucket) are quicker in moving projects forward than those with a strict chain of command structure.

Of course, the more money or risk is involved in a process, the better it is to pass through some final approval step before moving to the next phase. However, this way it easily happens that suddenly every single action ends up on one person’s desk for approval. This person, often a project manager or group leader becomes the bottleneck of the process. Even with the best intentions and a flawless work ethic every person has their threshold when due to the pure number or because of problems a backlog of approvals builds up. And now everyone is slowed down.

Such a situation can even be created in groups when one team member does not deliver for whatever reasons. Let’s just say all this person had to do was to take the final report and get it printed, but for some reason that doesn’t happen. Without the final report in hand the client does not release the funds for the next phase and so everyone is bogged down.

The most effective way to avoid getting stuck in either of those two cases is to

  1. define deadlines in combination with
  2. suggesting an alternative course of action

An email to your busy supervision could contain a phrase like this
“I will go ahead and order the furniture for the new office on the 25th unless you tell me not to.” This way your supervisor knows what is going on and can veto your action just by emailing “stop” back to you.

You could also offer an alternative action if you cannot go without the written approval for example by writing something like “…attached is the cost calculation for the new office’s furniture. If approved by the 25th I will go ahead and organize the transfer of the other material. However, without approval by the 25th I will start the hiring process for the new team members.”

Again your supervisor is in the loop and can either throw in a veto for both actions or knows what you’ll do if he is unable to approve in time.

A similar strategy works for crucial tasks to be completed by team members. “The deadline for submitting the final prints is July 1st. If Mike hasn’t confirmed receipt of final prints by Wednesday the 25th, Angela will take care of the printing process on Friday the 27th. Mike, no action, only communication regarding this matter after the 25th.”

This means even if something happens that causes Mike to be unable to confirm completion by Wednesday, he could still do so on Thursday, but he is not allowed to order any prints beyond Wednesday. This buffer is in place to avoid that suddenly Mike and Angela both order prints. So even if Mike should turn out to be an unreliable team member, the prints will be taken care of one way or the other and the overall progress is not in danger.

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This is Quick Tip No 41

 

photo credit: DailyM: ferrie=differentieel & Jöran Maaswinkel via photopin cc

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