Bottlenecks reveal the pivotal parts of processes that contribute most to strategic success. At Disney, it is waiting in line. Learn how the engineering concept of a bottleneck can be a useful tool to identify the most pivotal parts of your processes.
- You use strategy to make choices so you can invest your resources where they have the greatest impact: at the pivot points. Pivot points are where an improvement makes the largest difference in strategic success. How do you find strategic pivot points? One way is to look for the bottlenecks. You know what a bottleneck is. It's the shape of a beverage bottle with a wide bottom area and a thinner, tapered neck at the top. Why is the neck thinner? The thin, tapered neck allows you to more easily drink from the bottle because it's a constraint on the flow of liquid from the bottom to the top.
This bottleneck idea has helped humans identify pivot points for thousands of years. Imagine you're in Ancient Rome and you need to move water from one place to another for irrigation and drinking. They invented aqueducts with water flowing through a series of ditches, canals, and tunnels. Each segment of the aqueduct has its own width, depth, and flow capacity. First aqueducts were simply tile-covered ditches around 1900 years B.C., but by the year 700 B.C., water flowed in a canal that could cross a 280-foot bridge.
What if you wanted to increase by 10% the amount of water that flows from the end of the aqueduct? You might walk the entire length of the aqueduct system and painstakingly increase the flow capacity of every segment by 10%. That would certainly work, but it's a very wasteful approach. The wider and deeper segments already had sufficient capacity to carry 10% more. They were not limiting the flow. It was the slower, shallower, and thinner segments that are like the bottleneck.
They constrain the flow. What's the most efficient way to increase the flow by 10%? Increase the capacity only at the bottlenecks. In other words, the bottlenecks are pivotal to increasing the water flow even though every segment of the aqueduct is necessary and important. You can apply this idea of bottlenecks and constraints to all your processes. Think of each of your processes as a set of steps or elements that work together to change something, like the aqueduct changes water from being available far away to being available in a more useful location.
Another example is a manufacturing process that changes raw materials into finished goods, or an innovation process that changes creative ideas into marketable products and services, or finally, a sales process that changes people who didn't buy a product into buyers. The goal of the aqueduct is measured as the flow of water. The goal of other processes might be the flow and quality of ideas, customers, or finished goods.
Or it might be the quality or reliability of ideas or finished goods. You can describe every process in terms of its goal and then divide into separate steps or segments. You'll find that some segments are bottlenecks and some are not. Think of a process in your organization that you know well. Describe the process by drawing a process map that shows the individual process steps or segments.
Now find the bottleneck by asking: What is the process step or segment where improvement would make the largest difference in the goal of this process?
- Asking the right questions
- Focusing on what is pivotal
- Defining sustainable strategic success
- Finding bottlenecks
- Pivotal talent attributes and HR deliverables
- Strategic HR investments
- HR measurements and analytics