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Finding the Bottlenecks in Your Business

Kink in the Hose Image

I grew up on a farm in rural Prince Edward Island.  I was fortunate to spend so much time in a beautiful place, outside and close to nature.  At least that’s how I reflect on it now. 

As a teenager, though, it just seemed like a lot of work.  100 cattle don’t look after themselves, and there was the constant cadence of caring for them.  It was a bit inconvenient when you were trying to maximize your social life.  

One of the core jobs was simply to provide them with enough water.  Adult cattle drink 30-40+ litres of water a day!  More in the summer heat.  

There were several automated water stations, but there were a few places where reservoirs got filled from hoses.  

When you are filling tanks with water across long distances, hose kinks are your nemesis. Place the hose, turn it on, get set to daydream for five minutes.   

Nothing.  Or, just as bad, a dribble. 

Then came the problem-solving process. Walk back along the hose for an iterative set of twists and bends, until you find the problem spot.  Go back to the end of the hose and check for improved flow.   

Repeat until the problem is solved, for today. 

Business Owners Need to Find the Kink in the Hose 

The day-to-day processes in your business are just like the hoses from my youth. 

When the kinks are removed, things flow freely.  Leads, orders, production, deliveries, billings, and collections – all proceeding like clockwork. 

When there is a kink in the hose though, things slow right down.  And they don’t just slow down at that point.  Everything else slows down too. 

If you have a hold-up in deliveries, you can’t bill and collect on time.  And eventually, the sales and marketing functions must slow down too. 

If you can’t handle your production quality control processes, manufacturing will slow down. And once again, this kink in the hose will stop the flow through your company. 

As the business owner, you are likely the person they call when the find a kink in the hose. 

If you are like many owners, you can spot the problem pretty quickly.  You may even be able to fix it on the spot.  And if so, you likely do.  May with a bit of a ‘Fine, I’ll do it myself’ parental tone.  However, this type of fix usually doesn’t last.  You may get called again tomorrow for the same reason. 

What you need to do is - find these kinks, understand why they happen, and fix them for good. 

First off, do you have a process that is defined and well understood? Or is it something that is in the minds of some key, long serving employees?  Worst case, only the business owner knows how to handle this situation. 

Do you also have a process for the exceptions, issues and errors that occur in this process?  As you grow, this is a common source of bottlenecks.  Something that happens on 1% of orders can be dealt with off-the-cuff for a while.  But if you scale to 1,000 daily orders, now you have 10 of these to deal with each day.  

Next, do you have training on the processes?  Is there an easy-to-use checklist or process guide?  Is your team effective in this area, and do you have a way to measure the quality? 

Do you have enough qualified help in this area?  Perhaps you need a different skillset, or simply more capacity as you try to scale. 

Consider, are you taking the right approach in this area at this stage in your business?  A highly manual process may have been the right approach when your business was smaller.  But perhaps now is that time to look at supporting this area with better technology. When done right, this can improve efficiency and quality. 

Finally, think about how to be more proactive in finding kinks in the hose.  These are your continuous improvement raw material. Poll your team to uncover work they believe is getting done ineffectively.  Ask them where the efficiency, quality and training gaps are. Recognize them for this valuable input. 

Once you’ve identified the kinks, you’ll want to prioritize solving them.  You wouldn’t fix the fifth worst kink in your garden hose first.  In the same way, you should solve the biggest problem first to optimize the results.  

80% of consequences come from 20% of causes   

Pareto principle 

The Benefits of Kink-Free Hoses in Your Business  

To make the business more scalable, you keep working those worst kinks out of the hose.      

This will have several benefits. 

  • Your business becomes more resilient and less reliant on tribal knowledge 
  • It is easier to hire and train new employees successfully 
  • Your quality will improve and your error rates with drop 
  • You will pick the highest impact areas to modernize with technology 
  • You will make the business less reliant on you to solve recurring problems. 

These are significant benefits, all from a simple approach to finding problems.

Part 2 of 7 in our Scalability blog series.