Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 15, Issue 6;   February 11, 2015: Bottlenecks: II

Bottlenecks: II

by

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

52 Tips for Leaders of Project-Oriented OrganizationsAre your projects always (or almost always) late and over budget? Are your project teams plagued by turnover, burnout, and high defect rates? Turn your culture around. Read 52 Tips for Leaders of Project-Oriented Organizations, filled with tips and techniques for organizational leaders. Order Now!

Your comments are welcome

Would you like to see your comments posted here? rbrentNtIKoaPDyZajlwCner@ChacUavralKwZkyeVkMyoCanyon.comSend me your comments by email, or by Web form.

About Point Lookout

Thank you for reading this article. I hope you enjoyed it and found it useful, and that you'll consider recommending it to a friend.

Point Lookout is a free weekly email newsletter. Browse the archive of past issues. Subscribe for free.

Support Point Lookout by joining the Friends of Point Lookout, as an individual or as an organization.

Do you face a complex interpersonal situation? Send it in, anonymously if you like, and I'll give you my two cents.

Related articles

More articles on Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness:

Two cyclists commute to work at the U.S. Federal Highway AdministrationEnjoy Your Commute
You probably commute to work. On a good day, you spend anywhere from ten minutes to an hour or two — each way — commuting. What kind of experience are you having? Taking control of this part of your life can make a real difference.
Abilene, Texas, USATrips to Abilene
When a group decides to take an action that nobody agrees with, but which no one is willing to question, we say that they're taking a trip to Abilene. Here are some tips for noticing and preventing trips to Abilene.
An early Swedish dial phone ca. 1876Email Antics: I
Nearly everyone I know complains that email is a time waster. Yet much of the problem results from our own actions. If you're looking around for some New Year's resolutions to make, here are some ideas, in this Part I of a little catalog of things we do that help waste our time.
A sleeping dogRecovering Time: I
Where do the days go? How can it be that we spend eight, ten, or twelve hours at work each day and get so little done? To recover time, limit the fragmentation of your day. Here are some tips for structuring your working day in larger chunks.
Cheshire Cat fading to a smile, from Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, by Lewis CarrollHow to Avoid Getting What You Want
Why would you want to know how to avoid getting what you want? Well, suppose you had perfected ways of avoiding getting what you want, but you weren't aware that you were doing it. This one's for you.

See also Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness and Workplace Politics for more related articles.

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

Office equipment — or is it office toys?Coming July 25: Exploiting Functional Fixedness: II
A cognitive bias called functional fixedness causes difficulty in recognizing new uses for familiar things. It also makes for difficulty in recognizing devious uses of everyday behaviors. Here's Part II of a catalog of deviousness based on functional fixedness. Available here and by RSS on July 25.
Tim Murphy, official photo for the 112th CongressAnd on August 1: Strategies of Verbal Abusers
Verbal abuse at work has special properties, because it takes place in an environment in which verbal abuse is supposedly proscribed. Yet verbal abuse does happen at work. Here are three strategies abusers rely on to avoid disciplinary action. Available here and by RSS on August 1.

Coaching services

I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenmGSbJWweqNfsUVjvner@ChacQQMpwBGcBFixMasBoCanyon.com or (650) 787-6475, or toll-free in the continental US at (866) 378-5470.

Get the ebook!

Past issues of Point Lookout are available in six ebooks:

Reprinting this article

Are you a writer, editor or publisher on deadline? Are you looking for an article that will get people talking and get compliments flying your way? You can have 500 words in your inbox in one hour. License any article from this Web site. More info

Public seminars

The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
Many The Power Affect: How We Express Personal Powerpeople who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program.

Follow Rick

Send email or subscribe to one of my newsletters Follow me at LinkedIn Follow me at Twitter, or share a tweet Follow me at Google+ or share a post Subscribe to RSS feeds Subscribe to RSS feeds
The message of Point Lookout is unique. Help get the message out. Please donate to help keep Point Lookout available for free to everyone.
Technical Debt for Policymakers BlogMy blog, Technical Debt for Policymakers, offers resources, insights, and conversations of interest to policymakers who are concerned with managing technical debt within their organizations. Get the millstone of technical debt off the neck of your organization!
Go For It: Sometimes It's Easier If You RunBad boss, long commute, troubling ethical questions, hateful colleague? Learn what we can do when we love the work but not the job.
303 Tips for Virtual and Global TeamsLearn how to make your virtual global team sing.
101 Tips for Managing ChangeAre you managing a change effort that faces rampant cynicism, passive non-cooperation, or maybe even outright revolt?
101 Tips for Effective MeetingsLearn how to make meetings more productive — and more rare.
Exchange your "personal trade secrets" — the tips, tricks and techniques that make you an ace — with other aces, anonymously. Visit the Library of Personal Trade Secrets.