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? rbrenDSMZpPNGAcahsOtbner@ChacLrviVBtXMWCPLEVqoCanyon.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:

Time is moneyTaming the Time Card
Filling out time cards may seem maddeningly trivial, but the data they collect can be critically important to project managers. Why is it so important? And what does an effective, yet minimally intrusive time reporting system look like?
A calm seaAn Emergency Toolkit
You've just had some bad news at work, and you're angry or really upset. Maybe you feel like the target of a vicious insult or the victim of a serious injustice. You have work to do, and you want to respond, but you must first regain your composure. What can you do to calm down and start feeling better?
An actual deck chair recovered from the sunken liner TitanicThe Deck Chairs of the Titanic: Obvious Waste
Among the most futile and irrelevant actions ever taken in crisis is rearranging the deck chairs of the Titanic, which, of course, never actually happened. But in the workplace, we engage in activities just as futile and irrelevant, often outside our awareness. Recognition is the first step to prevention.
The field of vision of a horseA Review of Performance Reviews: Blindsiding
Ever learn of a complaint about you for the first time at your performance review? If so, you were blindsided. Reviews can be painful. Here are some guidelines for making them a little fairer.
The business end of a spark plugCreating Toxic Conflict: II
Some supervisors seem to behave as if part of their job description is creating toxic conflict among their subordinates. It isn't really, of course, but here's a collection of methods bad managers use that make trouble.

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

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

The United States curling team at the Torino Olympics in 2006Coming November 22: Motivation and the Reification Error
We commit the reification error when we assume, incorrectly, that we can treat abstract constructs as if they were real objects. It's a common error when we try to motivate people. Available here and by RSS on November 22.
A human marionetteAnd on November 29: Manipulators Beware
When manipulators try to manipulate others, they're attempting to unscrupulously influence their targets to decide or act in some way the manipulators prefer. But some targets manage to outwit their manipulators. Available here and by RSS on November 29.

Coaching services

I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenkMJqYwklsCFMJXgWner@ChacJWtInnwXlSSzujZSoCanyon.com or (617) 491-6289, 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

Ten Project Management Fallacies: The Power of Avoiding Hazards
Most Ten Project Management Fallaciesof what we know about managing projects is useful and effective, but some of what we know "just ain't so." Identifying the fallacies of project management reduces risk and enhances your ability to complete projects successfully. Even more important, avoiding these traps can demonstrate the value and power of the project management profession in general, and your personal capabilities in particular. In this program we describe ten of these beliefs. There are almost certainly many more, but these ten are a good start. We'll explore the situations where these fallacies are most likely to expose projects to risk, and suggest techniques for avoiding them. Read more about this program. Here's a date for this program:

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.
21st Century Business TravelAre your business trips long chains of stressful misadventures? Have you ever wondered if there's a better way to get from here to there relaxed and refreshed? First class travel is one alternative, but you can do almost as well (without the high costs) if you know the tricks of the masters of 21st-century e-enabled business travel…
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.