We have a schedule in our home, where each member takes a turn to do the dishes. When their round of dishes is finished it’s the next person’s turn. A great process when it works...but how does this relate to your business?
Recently one of our youngsters put off doing the dishes during their turn because of the cold, load shedding, or general cleaning-induced malaise. This meant that the dishes kept piling up. While a parent’s first instinct may be to tell the child to do the dishes (micromanage) or simply wash the dishes themselves (management trap 101), neither of those acts teach accountability.
The accountability lesson may have been a little shaky, but what the situation did offer was an opportunity to teach the children what bottlenecks are, how to identify them, and how to prevent them from disrupting life.
The more I thought about it, the more parallels between this simple domestic bottleneck and those that occur in the corporate world kept cropping up.
What Is Being Prevented From Proceeding As A Result Of The Bottleneck?
The dishes piled up very quickly after the sink was full and as a result no one could wash their own cutlery or crockery even if they had wanted to help reduce the child’s workload.
All too often when a colleague postpones a task it has a knock-on effect which reduces our personal ability to complete tasks, leading to frustration and a backlog of work. If the bottleneck is serious enough it can have a cumulative effect, resulting in multiple employees falling behind on their tasks.
The productivity in the kitchen came to a virtual standstill because there really are a finite number of ‘backup’ utensils and plates that people can store in their home.
In the same way, if a bottleneck is serious enough it can cause important processes in your company to suffer, or worse, come to a grinding halt. This leaves employees, customers and possibly suppliers frustrated and unimpressed with your company, and a backlog of work that can influence the quality of your company’s products or services. When the quantity and movement of work flowing through an organisation is unpredictable, both physical and human resources can become more challenging to manage and either may run out if the holdups aren’t resolved in time.
What Is The Reason For The Bottleneck And The Contributing Factors?
All the equipment that is necessary to wash and dry the dishes was available, so it wasn’t a lack of physical resources that caused the problem. The primary reason the job wasn’t completed in a timely manner was lack of motivation on the “resource’s” part, and honestly, I feel the child’s pain. Is anyone else tired of all work-from-home related washing!?
In the corporate world there are three factors that routinely cause bottlenecks to develop.
- People: Inadequate training, delays in receiving or completing work, staff turnover, low morale, inefficient employees or suppliers, and poorly managed handoffs.
- Systems: Key systems are outdated and prone to failures, systems are hard to use and not connected, or there are no systems in place that are capable of digitising, automating, or streamlining processes.
- Organisations: A lack of clear corporate objectives, confused hierarchy, poor organisational climate, an uncooperative corporate culture, lack of strategic planning, and other similar causes.
Is A Handoff Producing A Bottleneck?
In business process management (BPM) there is a moment when people transfer the control of the next task in a process to another department or individual. This is described as the handoff procedure. Whether you’re aware of it or not, most of us have been involved in handoff strategies thousands of times in our lives. From handing over the responsibility of washing the next round of dishes, to ordering a meal in a restaurant – sigh, those were the days – to handing over a new supplier for processing, these are all considered handoffs.
In our home, whoever is on dish duty needs to wash all the dirty cutlery and crockery, then when it is dry they need to pack it away. When that person is done with their turn, they must notify the next person in line that it is their turn to be on washing duty, and so the process continues for the rest of our natural lives.
This handoff normally goes smoothly unless, shock, horror one of the children didn’t compete EVERYTHING and their sibling needs to wash or pack something that was left over from the previous child’s turn.
In business it is commonplace to delegate and receive tasks verbally or through emails. While many email applications offer features such as Read Receipts, and Reminders, these are all reliant on manual intervention, i.e. they are not automatically enforced.
We may chuckle at how pedantic children can be about who does what, but we’ve all felt a degree of frustration when a colleague hands over a task before they’ve completed their portion of the job.
The Knock-On Effect Of Bottlenecks
Delaying doing the dishes once wasn’t an enormous problem but delaying several times in a row caused the job to become rather daunting. Much like in the corporate world, the child eventually had to “work overtime” to get the job done. This approach isn’t practical or sustainable at home or in the office as fatigue and burnout are inevitable.
The alternative was that we all pitch in and help the child finish the dishes, which in business would mean that resources would need to stop what they were doing and be added to the floundering project. This can become costly and disruptive, resulting in other tasks or projects falling behind schedule.
In the words of John Lennon “Everything will be okay in the end. If it's not okay, it's not the end.”
Running a business is a lot like running a home, just on a bigger scale and you normally don’t do it in your pyjamas. To ensure that things run smoothly we need to regularly examine how we’re doing things, why we’re doing them, and whether the resources assigned to complete tasks are competent and properly managed.
In the case of a business bottleneck, I recommend that you spend some time analysing the steps that precede the bottleneck to identify which of the above factors, or combination of factors, is causing the congestion. Once you have discovered the areas which require some work, consider using a mature BPM product such a FlowCentric Processware to digitise, automate, and efficiently control your business processes. The platform provides automated notifications, reminders, and escalation alerts to ensure that tasks never remain stagnant. This approach relieves much of the administrative burden from managers, freeing them up to focus on handling exceptions and improving the business as a whole.
In the case of our domestic bottleneck our wisecracking child recommends a dishwasher.
Can you hear my eyes rolling?
Interested in finding and removing bottlenecks in your business processes?