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Volume 15, Issue 6;   February 11, 2015: Bottlenecks: II

Bottlenecks: II

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When some people take on so much work that they become "bottlenecks," they expose the organization to risks. Managing those risks is a first step to ending the bottlenecking pattern.
A schematic representation of a MOSFET

A schematic representation of a MOSFET (Metal-Oxide Semiconductor Field Effect Transistor), similar to the transistors in the microprocessor(s) of the computer you're using to read this article. A typical modern laptop computer contains billions of these structures. They work by using the voltage applied to the Gate terminal to control the current flowing between the Source and the Drain. In effect, variations in that voltage cause different degrees of bottlenecking of the channel between the Source and the Drain. This enables a very small current to control variations in a much larger current.

So it is with organizational bottlenecks. One person, the bottleneck, can stall the work of many hundreds of people, under the right conditions.

We began exploring bottlenecking patterns last time, focusing on the motivations of those who become bottlenecks. Certainly there are more motivations than we've mentioned so far, but let's turn now to explore measures that can reduce the incidence of the pattern, or, at least, reduce the consequences of bottlenecking when it does occur.

Measure the incidence of bottlenecking
Define metrics and gather data that measures the incidence of bottlenecking. Example metrics for individuals include: the percentage of their day spent in meetings; actual hours worked; email messages sent per week; email message response time; voice mail message age; text messages sent per week; and meetings rescheduled per week. One particularly interesting metric: the number of meetings to which they had to send a "substitute" because of a schedule conflct.
Address bottlenecking in risk plans
For projects in which bottlenecking is a significant risk, risk plans ought to address it. If monitoring bottlenecking metrics is part of risk planning, then risk plans can prescribe interventions when bottlenecking is indicated. For projects in which bottlenecking isn't regarded as a significant risk, risk plans should include evidence to that effect, and steps to be taken if events unfold differently.
Remove temptations
When people are assigned sets of responsibilities that span efforts that they once championed, and whose success was the foundation for their current stature, the temptation to hang on to their former roles can be irresistible indeed. Doing so contributes to their overload and therefore to bottlenecking. When expanding responsibilities of top performers, arranging to place their former responsibilities out of reach removes any such temptation.
Monitor activities of political rivals
Political rivals For projects in which bottlenecking
is a significant risk,
risk plans ought to address it
of bottleneckers can be expected to be targeted for obscurity by the bottleneckers. That can happen because the responsibilities that are overloading the bottlenecker are often properly the responsibilities of the political rivals. Monitor the volume and the nature of the responsibilities political rivals have. If the workload of the rival is light, or the nature of the work is of lesser importance than the rival might be expected to have, the political agenda of the bottlenecker might be the cause.
Look to the supervisor
Supervisors whose charges become bottlenecks do have some responsibility for the situation. Certainly supervisors cannot be fully aware of conditions from minute to minute, but supervisors can be held responsible for the problematic behavior people who have been bottlenecks for a month or more, or who are repeat offenders. And supervisors who have more than one subordinate who is a bottleneck are also problematic. The supervisor's supervisor must address these failures as performance issues for the supervisor.

Finally, does your organization reward martyrs — the people who work killing hours for months on end because only they know how to do whatever it is they do? Rewarding martyrs creates more martyrs. In the long run, martyrdom hurts the organization. First in this series  Go to top Top  Next issue: Grace Under Fire: I  Next Issue

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