How to find bottlenecks in a Knowledge work environment.

Not sure if I read it in The Goal or the Phoenix project, but they mention that the easy way to identify the bottleneck in a factory setting is to walk around the factory floor and see where the biggest piles of inventory are sitting. Whatever process they are queuing for – That’s your bottleneck. The one process that limits the throughput of the whole factory. (Massive simplifications here, go read the books).

But what if your organisation doesn’t use a factory to create it’s outputs? What if you use mostly computers to do your day-to-day work? How the hell do you find a bottleneck then?

Of course you might still have physical bottlenecks, like money, licenses, processing power, or disk space… But even harder to identify and probably even more limiting are human bottlenecks.

Knowledge work relies on the sharing of information, making decisions, agreements, winks, nods and handshakes.

Some organisations go out of their way to limit this communication through strict hierarchies, silos etc… If you do work for one these organisations, my heart goes out to you.

Hopefully, you work at an organisation that encourages communication in all directions at all times. (And as long as it helps move work forward, why wouldn’t this be the case?) In such an organisation unfortunately, bottlenecks do and must occur. So how do you find them.

You could carry out extensive measurements across a ton of dimensions over several months.

Or you could check a few quick things:

  • Who is hard to get hold of?
    • Impossible to schedule meetings with?
    • Never available for a call?
    • Slow to reply to emails, or possibly known for not answering emails.

If no one pops to mind, this may be because of your position. As in, a CEO rarely has to wait for a response. Try asking someone who is at the bottom looking up for help.