The goal of a business is to make money through selling products or services. In that case, a vital element of your business is satisfying your customers as smoothly and efficiently as possible; it’s all about flow.

The effectiveness of your business management systems in ensuring the right information is in the right place at the right time can have a big impact. Simply typing an order into a system and waiting for it to be produced and shipped is rarely enough. Manufacturing instructions are required, raw materials and components need to be sourced (requiring stock checks and procurement approval processes), and manufacturing resources need to be assigned – the planning engine needs to run and exceptions dealt with. Whilst each of these elements may run acceptably, it is often true that these aspects do not integrate smoothly. The flow of information can be erratic. Very often, especially where human intervention or an exchange of data is required, things can grind to a halt.

Throughput Variations Build up along a Process

A perspective-changing book for me was Eliyahu M Goldratt’s “The Goal” (it’s certainly on my Desert Island list). Suggested reading from a girlfriend’s father about thirty years ago, it kick-started my realisation that bottlenecks in manufacturing are the things which actually impede production effectiveness, or the process ‘flow’. Those of you familiar with Lean manufacturing methodology will know about Takt time – the rate at which you need to complete a product to meet customer demand. Focussing on managing bottlenecks (or Herbies, as they become known in the ‘The Goal’) is key to controlling Takt time, no matter how efficient each constituent element of a process is. Processes downstream of a bottleneck can only work as fast as the bottleneck, so capacity constraints build up along the process.

Digital Bottlenecks are real things

Where are the bottlenecks across your business? Are they hidden or even created by your systems? On a shop floor, blockages can be spotted by looking for piles of inventory waiting in front of an activity – the bottleneck, but in systems-based activities, they can be difficult to see.

Does it take time to create data that doesn’t exist in the right format? Are you dependent on a sticky approvals process to source materials? Does your planning system know what’s in stock sufficiently accurately? Where does your “system inventory” tend to pile up – in Jo’s inbox, waiting for Dave to build his spreadsheet, on a printer in the store, or in a workflow that has been on the “to review” list since last Christmas?

Addressing these bottlenecks may not feel like a priority, but freeing them up can have a disproportionate impact, and they shouldn’t be ignored or put up with. Of course, there always has to be a constraint – the Takt time, or “drumbeat” that decides the rate at which a process works (that’s a different book). But if you are aware of this and can adjust it as required, then you are in control – heaven!

Hunt the Herbies!

As with ‘The Goal’, finding your bottlenecks can take a new perspective, but we can help. Alongside our many years of experience gained at the cutting edge of system implementation and management, we have tools to help you uncover and address those Herbies and help you maximise your business flow. They include a Value Stream and Process Mapping technique, specifically to highlight bottlenecks in your processes. Mapping out a process highlights unnecessary steps (identifying and removing a superfluous approvals loop in an HR recruitment activity brought about a significant reduction in the overall process time) or better approaches (implementing the subcontracting of a previously in-house sub-process allowed focus on core activity that halved lead times and brought about a significant reduction in WIP and Inventory cost)

Key Take Aways:

  • Flow is little to do with individual operation efficiencies
  • Find and address the bottlenecks to control your flow
  • Bottlenecks occur in business system processes and can be harder to find
  • A new perspective can help find them
  • Get in touch with us

If this has all sparked your interest, why not Get in touch – it may be the most significant call you’ve made in a while.