Skilled middle managers know the importance of monitoring throughput and productivity, making sure nothing gets in the way of the team’s success. Throughput is the rate at which a person, department, system, or function produces results. It may be expressed in terms of speed, quantity, time, or a combination of these factors. Middle managers are in the best position to recognize and resolve problems that limit throughput. The most common problems that reduce throughput are:
Problem 1:Bottlenecks. A bottleneck is a point of congestion that reduces the flow of work and hinders progress and productivity. There can be several bottlenecks occurring at the same time.
Problem 2:Constraints. A constraint is the bottleneck that has the most impact on overall throughput and results. A constraint can be a person, system, process, step, piece of machinery, or computer function.
Problem 3:Slow Process Connections. Sometimes the connections between resources affect throughput more than the steps of the process itself. This is especially a problem with work processes that rely on two or more handoffs between people in the same or different departments.
Problem 4:Lengthy or Complicated Critical Paths. Dependencies among steps slow processes. A critical path shows middle managers which interdependencies are affecting the overall throughput rate.
Problem 5:Skill Deficiencies. One common reason for slower throughput of work assignments and projects is a middle manager’s inability to plan, monitor, and assign work. Other skill shortages also get in the way of throughput. Middle managers who have not developed their abilities to partner, manage performance, set goals, or coach others will also suffer from lower throughput.
Problem 6:Breakdowns. Breakdowns are symptoms of process failures. People can also be the cause of breakdowns. Personal illnesses, vacations, and other situations that cause a person to stop working on a task could be considered breakdowns.
Problem 7:Errors. Errors are mistakes that lead to other additional work or cause work to have to be reworked.
Problem 8:Waste. Waste, as it relates to throughput, is work that is substandard or not usable – or work that, though satisfactory, is not used. An example of waste would be when an employee copies and then distributes reports that few people read.
Problem 9:Changes. Changes affect throughput in a variety of ways. When changes occur, error rates and waste may also increase; many changes can result in temporary skill deficiencies and workplace slowdowns.
Problem 10:Employee Turnover. Employee turnover results in skills deficiencies, higher error rates, slower work pace, breakdowns, and waste.
Problem 11:Inadequate Worker Training. When changes are made, workers need to be retrained. If they do not have the right training, they cannot do their best work.
Solving Throughput Problems
Haneberg offers several solutions for solving throughput problems.
Solution 1:Distinguish Constraints from Bottlenecks. Middle managers may waste time removing bottlenecks that are not constraints. Individuals who seek to optimize their part of a process without looking at the whole picture are most likely to face this problem. Distinguishing constraints from bottlenecks and focusing on constraint performance will ensure that time and resources have the highest benefit.
Solution 2:Reduce the Impact of Constraints. Once managers identify constraints, they can work to improve or supplement the constraint’s performance. This is often the most valuable work that a middle manager can do. When dealing with constraints, managers should consider using these steps:
* Test to confirm that the constraint has been properly identified.
* Determine the potential capacity of the constraint. The constraint capacity is the amount of work related to a particular process that can possibly be done under the best of circumstances.
* Identify ways to improve capacity.
* Seek out additional resources to help lessen the constraint.
* Optimize the efficiency of the constraint through better setups and handoffs.
Solution 3:Reduce Bottlenecks When Necessary. Managers must also address bottlenecks that are likely to become the next constraint. They may also want to reduce bottlenecks as a part of an overall process redesign or optimization. To reduce bottlenecks, managers can take steps similar to addressing constraints:
* Test to ensure that improving the bottleneck will improve results.
* Determine the bottleneck’s capacity. How much high-quality work can this resource complete? Can this resource produce more?
* Identify ways to improve capacity.
* Identify additional resources to decrease the effect of the bottleneck.
* Optimize the efficiency of the bottleneck through better setups and handoffs.
Solution 4:Shorten Critical Paths. Many throughput problems occur because the process or project design does not support the needed pace of throughput. Middle managers often underestimate the time needed to get through the various parts of a process, or critical path. Managers can take the following steps when dealing with critical paths:
* Ensure that the critical path is accurate and complete; beware of hidden steps or delays.
* Test assumptions about each step on the critical path.
* Identify ways to shorten each step on the critical path.
* Identify ways to shorten handoff times.
* Reduce unnecessary steps.
* Determine methods for doing more work concurrently, but ensure that doing so will improve throughput.
Solution 5:Improve Skills. Training and development are useful managerial tools for improving throughput. Managers should objectively determine the skills required of themselves and their team, identify teaching resources, and establish learning follow-up and reinforcement.
Solution 6:Deal with Other Barriers to Throughput. Barriers to throughput regularly challenge middle managers. Managers can obliterate barriers by diagnosing the root cause of problems affecting throughput, and addressing patterns, themes, and recurring barriers.