Talk to anyone in manufacturing about ‘increasing production’ and the discussion always turns to “debottlenecking”; that is, how to get more out of their existing process. Seasoned production people have an instinctive ability and pride in being able to maximize output with limited resources – like a mechanic passionately tinkering with a souped-up race car to squeeze that extra 5 km/hr out. It’s an art.
‘Debottlenecking’ is most often used in the context of operations, where more capacity or increased efficiency is achieved from existing facilities by improving processes and/or changing out or revamping components that are restricting output of the overall system.
The premise of debottlenecking is that you rarely have to change out every component – but rather examine your process to determine the key constraints or ‘bottlenecks’ that are limiting output, then systematically improve or replace them (starting with your biggest constraints first) until your targeted increase in production is achieved. For more detailed information, see Wikipedia’s Theory of Constraint.
Simply put, the four steps of ‘debottlenecking’ include:
- Confirm the higher level of output or performance required/desired;
- Understand your entire process and key components as it exists today;
- Determine the key components that are constraining your process from achieving your target output or performance; and
- Systematically improve or replace each constraint (usually beginning with the largest) until the desired level of output/performance is achieved.
Debottlenecking Your Business – Simply, Quickly
The same systematic approach used in operations can be used to grow or improve your overall business performance.
“Every business has bottlenecks. YOUR business has bottlenecks.
As a result, there is a 100% chance that your business could be growing or performing better than it is today.”
Let’s explore how a systematic ‘debottlenecking’ process can help YOUR business grow or achieve better performance. Steps #1 to #3 below can literally be accomplished within hours for most businesses using a structured process and experienced facilitator. Timing for Step #4 will depend upon the number and magnitude of changes to be undertaken.
Step #1 Set a higher growth or performance target for your business
Create a new growth or performance goal for your business. Be aggressive in your expectations, but realistic for your industry. Write it down to ensure you and your management team have a clear (and the same) understanding of the goal. Make sure your goal is measurable, which will enable you to monitor your progress towards the goal. Lastly, set a deadline to achieve the goal in order to maintain a “sense of urgency” in continuing to move towards the goal.
Step #2 Understand your existing business processes and key components
Begin by understanding your starting point – your current business process. Every business has countless moving parts – ‘mission-critical’ processes and components – that all need to operate effectively and in a synchronized way to ensure business ‘happens’. Each member of your management team will see your business and its processes from a unique perspective – solicit their input and expertise.
Write down the key components of your business (processes, activities or skills) that are mission-critical to its success and desired growth. If helpful, organize them within the major business functions – sales & marketing, market knowledge, people, finance, business processes, leadership & culture, and your unique product/service-offering. You’ll begin to realize just how many moving parts are essential to your business.
Step #3 Determine the key components that are constraining your business (i.e. bottlenecks) from achieving the higher growth target
Understanding and laying out your current business and all its moving parts (#2) allows you to better evaluate the major bottlenecks in the business. Up until now, it’s quite likely that the constant distraction of short-term business or operating issues (affectionately referred to as “in the weeds”) has prevented you from fully (or objectively) examining the effectiveness of your entire business and the major bottlenecks that are impeding its growth. As the classic saying goes – “You’ve been working ‘IN’ your business, not ‘ON’ your business”.
Write down the top 5 issues or components that you perceive are preventing your business from performing better or growing faster – the bottlenecks. Interestingly, EVERYONE in your business has their own list that will differ from yours. Have each of your management team independently write down their lists, then review the consolidated list with your team. Some common issues will emerge, but so will some less recognized (but important) issues based on the individual perspectives from each of your management team.
Step #4 Systematically improve or replace each constraint until desired level of output/performance is achieved
Your consolidated list of key constraints (#3) will allow you and your team to objectively examine and agree on the biggest constraints to your business’ growth, and assist in prioritizing your efforts on highest-impact areas of improvement.
Select the top 3 ‘bottlenecks’ to be worked on based on immediate needs of the business, magnitude of benefit or improvement, available resources (time, money, skills), and immediacy of benefit. Create disciplined action plans to resolve each bottleneck. As each bottleneck is systematically reduced or eliminated, continue your efforts to resolve successive bottlenecks until your desired growth or performance goal is achieved.
Debottlenecking Your Business – The Hardest Part
Getting started, and keeping going. But mostly getting started.
One of the most commonly used phrases in business is “I really should get to that.”
The second is “I don’t have time.”
The third is “It won’t work”.
There is a 100% chance that your business could be growing or performing better than it is today. ‘Debottlenecking’ is a recognized, proven process to systematically unlock the growth and performance potential of your business. The only thing holding your business back is getting started. Can you (or your business) afford NOT to?
Be Bold, Think Big, Be Curious, Keep Focused
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