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? rbrenuhwGcWegptYHaafTner@ChacsMOgMJUxMFZoOYYeoCanyon.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:

A sundialRecovering Time: II
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 find more time, focus on strategy.
A can of sardines — what many of us feel like on board a modern airlinerChanging the Subject: I
Whether in small group discussions, large meetings, or chats between friends, changing the subject of the conversation can be constructive, mischievous, frustrating, creative, tension relieving, necessary, devious, or outright malicious. What techniques do we use to change the subject, and how can we cope with them?
Sherlock Holmes and Doctor WatsonHow to Make Good Guesses: Tactics
Making good guesses probably does take talent to be among the first rank of those who make guesses. But being in the second rank is pretty good, too, and we can learn how to do that. Here are some tactics for guessing.
Vortex cores about an F18 fighter jetGuidelines for Sharing "Resources"
Often, team members belong to several different teams. The leaders of teams whose members have divided responsibilities must sometimes contend with each other for the efforts and energies of the people they share. Here are some suggestions for sharing people effectively.
Still Life with Chair-Caning, by PicassoSolutions as Found Art
Examining the most innovative solutions we've developed for difficult problems, we often find that they aren't purely new. Many contain pieces of familiar ideas and techniques combined together in new ways. Accepting this as a starting point can change our approach to problem solving.

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

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

A voltmeter with a needleComing January 17: High Falutin' Goofy Talk: II
Speech and writing at work are sometimes little more than high falutin' goofy talk, filled with puff phrases of unknown meaning and pretentious, tired images. Here's Part II of a collection of phrases and images to avoid. Available here and by RSS on January 17.
Passing the baton in a relay raceAnd on January 24: Understanding Delegation
It's widely believed that managers delegate some of their own authority and responsibility to their subordinates, who then use that authority and responsibility to get their work done. That view is unfortunate. It breeds micromanagers. Available here and by RSS on January 24.

Coaching services

I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenfoFPWwZoebuhcKySner@ChacSTsrMMKlTxwXzuppoCanyon.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

Person-to-Person Communications: Models and Applications
When Person-to-Person Communications: Models and Applicationswe talk, listen, send or read emails, read or write memos, or when we leave or listen to voice mail messages, we're communicating person-to-person. And whenever we communicate person-to-person, we risk being misunderstood, offending others, feeling hurt, and being confused. There are so many ways for things to go wrong that we could never learn how to fix all the problems. A more effective approach avoids problems altogether, or at least minimizes their occurrence. In this very interactive program we'll explain — and show you how to use — a model of inter-personal communications that can help you stay out of the ditch. We'll place particular emphasis on a very tricky situation — expressing your personal power. In those moments of intense involvement, when we're most likely to slip, you'll have a new tool to use to keep things constructive. Read more about this program. Here's a date for this program:

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.
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.