We’re all familiar with the term bottleneck, referring to the horrible narrowing of traffic lanes on the roadways or the person in a project or team who slows everything down. But there are other types of bottlenecks in business to look out for and resolve as soon as possible!
#1 Information Bottleneck – while this happens most frequently to new or lower level team members, sometimes work just stops because we don’t know what to do next or how to find something important.
The task “take this file to Jason” was really difficult at a former job of mine because no one showed me where Jason’s office was and none of the offices had labels. So I’d wander around for a bit until I found Jason in the hallway and stalk him back to his domain.
Another common lack of information issue is around files such as “create a new contract for this client” from the template… where? Or incomplete information like “write a sales email” to which I reply, “to what list, from which email, with what subject line, covering what details to go out when?” Even if those details change slightly, I can’t produce much at all with partial information about a task.
The solution? A home for all your information that’s easily accessible to your team. We prefer a wiki site online but whether you call it SOPs, an operations manual or business bible, you’ll want to document the details. Where are those contract templates found? Where are your team members located? What email from address do we use consistently?
Then, instead of answering 100 questions from team members who just want to do their jobs you can point them in the right direction and they can work independently.
#2 Transfer Bottleneck – Imagine in our traffic example that your lane is ending due to construction and you have no idea where to merge or go next. Your options are to move along slowly, possibly making wrong turns and making everyone around you mad or to turn off your engine and sit in the car.
This is exactly what your team members will do when given unclear or no directions about what to do when they’re done with a task.
That team member found the template and wrote the contract for a new client… now what? Does it get emailed? Go into a service? Get faxed? Handed off?
I can’t tell you how many times over the years working with teams I’ve followed up with a team member and heard this story. Here’s how the conversation goes:
Me: did you write that email you were assigned?
Client’s VA: Yes.
Me: where is it?
Client’s VA: In my Google docs.
Me: Did you add it to Infusionsoft?
Client’s VA: No, I don’t have access
Me: Did you request access or give it to the launch manager to add to Infusionsoft?
Client’s VA: No
Me: Why did you check it off in Asana?
Client’s VA: Because I was done.
Working as a team means passing content, information, projects and tasks back and forth constantly. You can’t do that if team members don’t know what happens to their piece of the puzzle when it’s done.
Another example is how my team manages launch graphics. At the beginning of a given launch we’ll create a folder in our Dropbox account for the *final* launch graphics. Once the graphics are approved the designer moves them into Dropbox and notifies the assistant who will be uploading them onto Facebook, into emails and onto pages.
If those same graphics are emailed to me then I have to distribute them. Nope.
If those graphics are emailed to everyone now I have to find them in my email. Not gonna happen.
By having a central location (see bottleneck #1) and clear process for what to do with content and information we can move forward a lot faster with fewer slowdowns.
The solution? Task management software like Asana, Trello, Basecamp, etc. It’s not enough to simply assign a task, you need to indicate what happens next otherwise you’ll be chasing half completed projects all over the internet.
#3 People Bottleneck – Yes, sometimes projects grind to a halt simply because the people assigned to do the work are not doing the work. If you’re lucky you find this out quickly and can deal with the issue.
Here’s a quick breakdown of the excuses reasons that work isn’t getting done:
- Team member didn’t know they’d been assigned a task
- Don’t have sufficient information or access to do the work
- Unsure of how to proceed so stalled in the middle
- Lazy and “will get to it soon” i.e. never
- Doesn’t care about your business so it’s not a priority
- Is genuinely too busy with tasks or personal circumstances
- Experiencing an internet outage, computer failure or other technology disaster
- There’s been a terrible tragedy and this person is in hospital or worse…
The problem is all of these possibilities go through your mind when work isn’t done and the only way to slow down the racing doubts and fears is to hand it head on.
The solution? Managing the people of your team, something most entrepreneurs don’t want to do. There could be uncomfortable conversations in getting to the truth but it’s absolutely worth it to identify the problems contributing to this bottleneck and clear them out.
Here’s an easy email script to get you started, just replace the underlined sections with your own team information:
Hi Susan, I am checking in on the newsletter graphics due today which were assigned in Asana last week. If they are done they need to be uploaded to the Dropbox folder and if not, please check in ASAP on what you need to complete this task and when it will be done. Thanks!
No matter the type or severity of bottleneck in your business, you have to play traffic cop and clear it out. If you want your projects to move forward, website to launch, programs to run smoothly and marketing to go out then you must deal with problems that slow things down, even if it’s the epitome of not fun work.