Are You The Bottleneck?
Jason was frustrated.
Jason was the developer responsible for the system to integrate third party data from XYZ, Inc. Jason had some requirements and some initial specifications. However, as things changed, there were questions.
Bottleneck – Aidan Jones via Flickr
Jean didn’t want Jason to see the politics of the other contractor or company that was producing the data. Jean, as project manager, saw part of her job as “dealing to the other contractors and clients to free up my staff to be productive.”
Jason used to say, “It’s hard to know what to work on when the people that I should be working alongside are ‘over there’ and all I have to do is communicate with them through documentation and my manager.” It’s difficult to stay motivated when I make so many assumptions. If one of these assumptions is wrong, it’s a waste of effort.
Let’s use the Theory of Constraints, one of many available tools to assess the situation.
Step 1 – Identify the system’s constraints
This system has a constraint: the communication between Jason, XYZ’s developers. There is so much friction and separation between the minds that must work together.
Step 2: Decide how to exploit system’s limitations
Let’s take a look at some options.
Jean could communicate better between Jason and XYZ. This could be her highest priority. Jean has many other priorities. This solution does not solve the problem of degrees of separation.
Perhaps a better option is to allow communication between Jason and XYZ’s developers. If we look for the root cause of the problem, we will find that fear and lack of trust are the real culprits. This option addresses the root cause directly. Deming’s 14 points are to Drive out Fear and Create trust.
Step 3 – All other matters should be subordinated to the above decision
This might be difficult. Maybe XYZ is also afraid of developers talking to them directly and possibly sharing company secrets. Jean might need to work on trust and bridging gaps.
We have determined that communication between Jason, XYZ developers, is the constraint to optimal throughput and productivity in this system. We don’t attempt to improve the system until we have lifted and broken this constraint.
Step 4 – Lift the system’s limitations
It can take time to 1) trust your employees and 2) gain trust between you, the company you work with, and other companies. Jason might need training in ITAR compliance or export compliance depending upon the nature of his work and if XYZ employs foreign developers. He may require company-specific training in IP and non-disclosure.
Jean can then get out of Jason’s way and concentrate on removing obstacles from Jason’s path instead of being one.
Jean and Jason can now focus on improving communication. What started as weekly conference calls between project managers turned into developer-only discussions. Remote collaboration tools like whiteboarding, collaborative coding/documentation apps, and video conference are now possible.
Step 5 – If the previous steps failed to meet a constraint, go back to Step 1. Step 5 – If a constraint was broken in the previous steps, go back to step 1
This means that Jason’s productivity is now impacted by another constraint. We can now go back to step 1 to look for other constraints. Jason might benefit from specialized technical training.
Important point: All t