Esteban, the bottleneck (real case)

Foto cuello de botella

With this post I try to help Esteban, a real and concrete person. However, I also believe that the ideas could be helpful to others in similar situations.

Esteban is in the software development branch. Projects for different clients, all with their particular requirements, critical issues and urgent matters to resolve. Nothing surprising for a person of the IT world. What is interesting is the situation in which Esteban is:

  • He leads 5 projects and is involved in other 8 projects as Technical Lead, responsible for designing the solution.
  • All projects use technologies that are new for the IT domain as well as for the team members.
  • In addition to making his own work, Esteban gives training in new the technologies to the people involved in the projects, helps them with any questions at their work, fixes the mistakes they cannot correct, speaks with clients clarifying features (both implemented and new or modified )
  • More precisely, this means that every day dedicates time to some 20-25 colleagues, discussing different issues, when they arise, without any order or schedule, and spending about 10-15 min with each one of them takes him about 5-6 working hours daily.  Between the conversations he tries to restart his interrupted work …. until the next interruption. The result is the following:
    • Esteban’s incomplete work accumulates,
    • the queue of those waiting for their responses is increasing,
    • Customers of different projects are getting unhappy, because of the slow resolution of their problems
    • Esteban’s Boss is unhappy because has Esteban has become a “bottleneck” and does not “manage to handle” all the tasks.

Does this situation sound familiar to you?

What would do you to resolve it?

I see three options and will try to explain them and demonstrate them here.

Look at this bottle.


It contains the work that must pass through the bottleneck, i.e. the work that Esteban has to do.

  1. The first option is “do nothing” or leave the colleagues to find their way to getting the work done, just pushing the work pass as quick as possible through the bottleneck. In this case it takes some 11:07 seconds to empty the bottle (complete work). Air bubbles enter the bottle irregularly and help the water pours, yet you can see that the flow is not smooth.
  2. The second option is to put some order, for example, define a period of time in the day when Esteban will respond to the doubts of his colleagues, establish some rules about what types of questions will be addressed to  Esteban, and how to deal with truly urgent matters that cannot wait until the hour of questions.Let us visualize this option:

    The timer also shows improvement. The water takes 7:93 seconds to get out of the bottle. 28% reduction of the delivery time
  3. The third option is as follows (we first demonstrate it)

The same amount of work passes through the same bottleneck in 5:60 seconds only! Additional reduction of the delivery time by 29%. Or 49% quicker comparing to the first case.

How is it possible?

The air entering through the straw makes the water flow smoothly and permanently, without stops and re-starts (caused by air bubbles, as in the first option).

In Esteban’s case what would be equivalent to air entering through the straw?

Well, the answer to this question can be found only with those directly involved in the situation. What I can just suggest is the following:

  • Visualize the ongoing work in the projects so that all involved can discuss, prioritize and agree what to do to achieve a smooth and constant flow of results. Not ensuring that everyone is busy, but making sure that the results that provide value to customers are being developed.
  • The bottleneck is a valuable resource and at the same time it limits the flow of the water. Therefore we have to use it smart, not waste it. That is Esteban has to be always engaged in tasks that require his knowledge level and skills, and does not waste time on other work which only slows down the workflow.
  • Find a way to elevate the bottleneck, making it possible that other team members be able to help with the specific jobs. (this requires most time and effort)

How do you see it?

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