road bottleneck

The Initiatives That Matter: How to Prioritize the Projects With the Biggest Business Impact

At any moment, there are dozens of things you could be doing to improve your business.  

But the reality is, most of those things won’t make the impact you’re hoping for.

Right now, your business has one major bottleneck constraining its growth.  If the improvements you’re working on don’t help remove that bottleneck, you’re essentially wasting your time. 

There’s Only Ever ONE Bottleneck

Given the large list of business improvements you could be making, it can be hard to realize that there are only a few that really matter.

That’s because the defining characteristic of the bottleneck is that it’s THE principal constraint.  Nothing can move faster or grow further until this constraint is lifted.

Imagine a major highway that passes over a narrow bridge.  You can add additional lanes for miles before and after the bridge — but so long as the bridge remains two lanes wide, traffic will be backed up.  The bridge is the bottleneck, and it’s the only constraint that really matters.  There may be ways to alleviate some of the traffic congestion through other means — but to make a real difference, capacity needs to be expanded at the bridge.

Of course, as soon as you remove the bottleneck, another one will appear.  But until you remove it, none of your other efforts will pay off as you hope.  

The Bottleneck May Not Be What You Think

One of the tricky things about bottlenecks is that they’re often misleading. Sometimes what seems to be the bottleneck is only a symptom.

For example, imagine that your organization is having consistent cash-flow problems.  One obvious solution (and one that many executives jump to) is to increase sales.  More sales = more money = better cash flow… right?

Well, maybe. You could easily spend the next six month creating promotions, hiring a bigger sales team, launching new ad campaigns, and developing new markets. And it would probably work — you’ll make more sales and find more customers.

But what if your production team is maxed out?  If they can’t deliver any faster on the sales you make, then overall revenues will only shift marginally. You’ll still have the same cash-flow issues as before.

In fact, increasing sales might even make things worse, since you won’t be able to deliver your commitments on time, which leads to unhappy customers, a tanking reputation, and lost orders.

All the work that went into increasing sales was wasted effort, because your production team can’t keep up. They’re the bottleneck and until you’ve found a way to increase the rate of production, all the sales in the world won’t help you reach your real financial goals.

What’s YOUR Bottleneck?

A version of this dynamic plays out in teams throughout any organization. 

I see it all the time with clients. When a team member identifies a solution to a perceived problem, the tendency is to chase that solution.  The team implements without investigating three essential questions:

    1. Is this a real problem (versus someone’s perception of a problem)?
    2. Will the proposed solution address the root issue?
    3. Is this where the team should be spending its time?  Does the solution address the current bottleneck?

If you don’t take time to address these questions — and to think seriously about your current bottleneck — then you’re likely to sink a lot of effort into solutions that don’t generate much traction.

In contrast, anything you do to relieve a bottleneck will produce immediate and substantial results that help move the business forward. 

The bottleneck is your biggest opportunity and your biggest point of leverage. Projects that focus on the current bottleneck are by default the initiatives that should get the most time and attention from your team.

My challenge for you today is to take a look at the initiatives you have going on within your organization and evaluate their impact on the bottleneck.  

When you find the initiative that is truly focused on eliminating the current bottleneck, prioritize it and put the rest on hold.

You’ll be astounded at how big the business impacts can be.

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