How to unlock business bottlenecks

How to unlock business bottlenecks

It’s March and by now our plans for the year are starting to take shape.

During last year many business owners found themselves dealing with the same problems over and over again, and because they were busy running their businesses they often just tolerated the problem. But business life is like that, we often just put up with an issue if we can still move ahead and it doesn’t affect us too much. We know it’s not ideal because sooner or later it will appear again to frustrate us.

The interesting thing is that with most of these problems, if you were to dig a little deeper, you will find that these problems are actually a symptom of one or more bottlenecks.

So what do I mean when I say… bottleneck?

A bottleneck is a point of congestion in a system or process that occurs when the system has been overloaded. The inefficiencies brought about by the bottleneck often create delays and higher costs. The “bottleneck” is the narrowest point in the system. Think of 3 road lanes merging into 2 at peak hour….traffic slows almost to a standstill, this creates a traffic bottleneck and a point of congestion.

Here is an example of a bottleneck in a landscape business

The months of October, November and December are the busiest for landscape contractors and horticulturists running their own business. Many contractors are totally ‘under the pump’ by November trying to finish all projects before Christmas as everyone wants their garden transformed by Dec 25. Horticulturists have every client wanting them to service their garden several times so it is prepared for Christmas and the summer period and the outdoor entertaining that awaits. So not only do owners of construction and maintenance businesses have to satisfy increased requests from regular clients but they have to deal with the large amounts of enquiries from new clients wanting new projects built and maintained within schedules that are full. So why don’t landscapers just say “Sorry, I can’t help you prior to Christmas but after Christmas I definitely can?”

Because no-one wants to potentially lose a good project or potential maintenance client. Some clients will wait until after Christmas but the majority need their garden built or maintained before Christmas.

So how does the increased enquiries create a bottleneck?

Because many landscapers agree to meet the potential and current clients who have made the enquiry and discuss the construction project or maintenance required, quote the job (which can take many hours), go back to the client and show the quote/design and discuss other options. Remember that these business owners (landscapers) may be working on another job or over-seeing their other jobs, working on the tools, buying materials, create concept drawings, manage team members, deal with construction and/or maintenance issues, manage admin in other words run their business while a back log of quotes and meetings continues to build from the new enquiries.

The additional work at the most intense time of the year creates increased pressure on every other part of the business because the business processes that were being applied suddenly start to falter or are not maintained.

How could this bottleneck be affecting profits, stifling growth and causing other systems to suffer?

In the following ways:

  • The contractor may rush quotes to deliver them to clients quickly and hopefully win jobs. The concern is they do not give careful attention to the pricing of the scope of works placing it in danger of being underquoted. When the underquoted projects are built they can lose money.
  • If additional work is won and the work schedules are already tight from projects accepted months ago, all projects can be rushed, and we all know what that could mean – poor workmanship, mistakes, lower profits, damaged reputation.
  • Within the increased pile of quotes yet to be priced, some jobs will be a waste of time quoting because the potential client could be unreasonable and expect too much, hard to deal with or the job doesn’t have enough profit, so the contractor would have been better off saying no they are too busy and focusing on performing their scheduled work to a high standard and with much less stress.
  • A bottleneck causes other processes to suffer because the contractor has to give his limited time to meeting new clients and quoting new jobs that he probably can’t build before Christmas anyway. Some of these processes that suffer are – tracking job progress, planning jobs properly, getting invoices out, tracking profit against the quotes, overseeing jobs, ensuring quality of work, maintaining team communication, helping on-site and so on.

When you think about any area in your business that has an inefficiency, you will find that congestion or a break-down of a system or process will often be the cause. Here is what you can do about them.

Below are a few questions you can ask to start uncovering some bottlenecks and help you find simple solutions.

  • Is this potential project in alignment with the work that I do?
  • Have I quoted this project carefully allowing for generous time frames?
  • Can I delegate some tasks allowing me to give time to more important tasks?
  • Do employees have a clear understanding of the work being assigned to them?
  • How are employees reminded to complete their work? Is it automatic?
  • Are there manual tasks being done that could be automated?
  • What is our process for holding staff accountable for their responsibilities?
  • Which type of work is consistently done at a poor level of quality?
  • Do we have defined workflows for the important work being done?
  • How can we measure our project profit or maintenance profit?
  • Should we outsource certain tasks?

Identifying and devising a simple solution to a bottleneck can relieve a business of an inefficiency that positively affects so many other areas leaving you to move ahead toward your goals in 2017.

John  Corban
Business Coach for the horticulture and Landscape Industries
Mob: 0433 27 1980

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