Monday, January 14, 2013

Are Bottlenecks And Chokepoints Killing Your Projects?

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Bottlenecks and choke points are the points along the critical path to your project's completion where the entire system either slows down or comes to a complete halt because there is a critical and dangerous dependency on some person, protocol or procedure in the system who or which must perform some operation, inspection or issue some approval before the process is allowed to continue.

Call them "red tape," "hurdles," "roadblocks"... it makes no difference. They are usually an endemic and culturally entrenched (and generally accepted, despite the fact that they are consistently acknowledged as being a problem) cause for projects not being completed on time, or for budget overruns.

As a business owner, strategic planner, project manager or entrepreneur you have a responsibility to structure your plans and paths to minimize the existence or potentially negative impact of these choke points in your business or project plan. And it will require that you either 1) re-visit the incremental structure of your plan, and change it as and where necessary; or 2) perform an operational review (audit) and evaluation of the incremental steps in your plan's or process' existing critical path toward reaching its target, and taking some corrective action.

Here Are Your Options In Mitigating This Type Of Problem:

1) Design or re-design your process or protocol to eliminate the number of these chokepoints to the greatest extent possible;

2) If you come to a node or point in the process where a chokepoint is inevitable and unavoidable, be certain that you have redundant resources at the ready to be certain that the time loss, productivity loss, and drag on momentum are minimal. Examples: If the one check signatory is out of town, be certain there is another one present; if one inspector is off on a break or unavailable during the production shift, be certain that another is present; if one special analytic tool or mechanism breaks down, be certain that you have a spare one on hand to use in its place;

3) Create overrides or bypasses at these critical points if it is possible to do this without creating a hazard or negatively impacting quality -- overrides and bypasses can become too convenient and are often subject to abuse -- from a behavioral and industrial psychology standpoint, monitor or sample check the outcome or quality of output when these special exceptions are employed;

4) If possible, and if it is cost effective and reasonably easy to do so, "widen" those chokepoints (similar to loosening your tie or taking the kink out of a garden water hose) by creating parallel processes at those points which then re-converge into the singular path;

5) If a chokepoint or bottleneck exists simply because your transactional volume (or your workload) is simply too high, determine a threshold where that bottleneck warrants an additional person, machine or program to handle greater capacity. This requires an ongoing evaluation of your systems and procedures, and makes the case for using scalable solutions or resources however and wherever possible. When you can deploy a scalable solution at a critical point, your entire operating protocol may well benefit by it.

If we were to look at a process which had a threshold solution (i.e., hiring the redundant expert or purchasing the additional drive when a certain volume of throughput is reached) versus a process which had scalable solutions at these crucial junctures (i.e., where the data handler or robotic inspector or test checker would just require a higher setting of some sort), the first would look like a step function, while the second would look like a continuous function. The image at the top of the page illustrates this comparison.

Douglas E. Castle for The Business And Project Planning And Management Blog

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