What is a bottleneck?
Monitoring vital signs of continuous improvement such as engagement, activity, and impact, gives leaders insight into the health of their improvement culture. Effective leaders keep an eye out for developing bottlenecks that harm those metrics in order to sustain the growth and momentum of improvement. There is nothing more toxic to the momentum, emotion, and ultimately the effectiveness of improvement work than out-of-control bottlenecks.
A bottleneck is a constraint on workflow that reduces the efficiency and capacity of that workflow. Bottlenecks in the improvement process occur when there is a delay at one step that causes a slowdown in the progression of the improvement cycle. Identifying these bottlenecks is critical at every stage of the improvement journey in order to sustain engagement, drive impact, and accelerate change.
Common bottlenecks in improvement processes occur at three main points.
- New: When there is more than a few days delay between when opportunities for improvement are first captured and when leaders assign them for implementation, it is considered a bottleneck.
There is no more of an effective way for a leader to say they do not value their employees’ input than to let an item sit in the New status for extended periods of time. It’s like sitting a suggestion box out on your desk, letting employees fill it up, and then putting it in a storage closet.
- Overdue: Whenever an item is overdue by more than a few days, it is considered a bottleneck. Letting items sit in the Overdue status for extended periods of time signals that improvement is not a priority, and that people are not expected to complete their work on time.
In addition, as this bottleneck triggers smart notifications, the longer it is overdue the more escalations of that notification typically take place. Leaving items in Overdue status, therefore, makes people numb to those notices and makes KaiNexus a less effective continuous improvement platform as a whole.
- Resolution Submitted: When employees have submitted their Resolution for approval, the Improvement changes to the Resolution Submitted status. Failing to respond to submitted Resolutions for extended periods of time signals that the improvement work was not that important in the first place, and decreases future engagement.
KaiNexus makes it easy to identify when and where these bottlenecks occur so that you can catch and remedy them right away before they reduce engagement and impact. KaiNexus hones the right leadership and coaching habits to promote a culture of continuous improvement.
There are a number of ways KaiNexus helps do this by its default behavior, but there are numerous reports and other configurations that can be used to make the system even more powerful when identifying and addressing bottlenecks.
Types of bottlenecks defined
How can New items become a bottleneck?
When someone submits an item in KaiNexus, it retains the New status until a leader reviews and assigns it to someone. A bottleneck occurs when leaders fail to promptly assign New items.
If items are getting hung up in the New status, you risk slowing down your work, decreasing engagement, and ultimately damaging your improvement culture by sending the message that leaders are not listening to the voice of the people within the organization.
Best Practice: New items should not go unresponded to for more than 24-48 hours.
The lag here may be the result of many things, including:
- Leaders are not engaged in improvement.
- Leaders do not prioritize improvement.
- Leaders are uninformed regarding the importance of assigning improvements.
- Leaders need additional training in how to assign improvements.
- Leaders are not assigning improvements as they come in - rather, they wait until scheduled times to assign them all at once.
How do I respond to this bottleneck?
Coach leaders to promptly assign new items (when applicable) so that nothing gets delayed longer than absolutely necessary. That first 24-48 hour period is critical to maintaining momentum and enthusiasm for each item. By quickly getting the ball rolling, you ensure that your employees remain engaged.
Why are Overdue items a problem?
After a leader assigns an Improvement or work on a Project is scheduled to begin, it is considered Active. If the due date passes and the item has not been completed, it becomes Overdue. At that point, leaders need to assess why progress is not being made. Has the Responsible person forgotten about this Improvement? Was the due date unreasonable? Are external circumstances preventing implementation?
If work is consistently overdue, you risk sending the message that people are not accountable for their work, which might make people think that their efforts are not considered important. By insisting that all items are completed on time, people will understand that improvement is a priority, that they are accountable for making improvements, and that you value their contributions.
How do I fix this bottleneck?
Depending on the underlying cause, there are several approaches to treating this bottleneck that we’d recommend.
- If there’s a pattern of the Responsible people not implementing Improvements, despite having plenty of time, resources, and support, they may need coaching on the importance and goals of continuous improvement. If they understand the purpose of this kind of work, they’ll be more motivated to see their assignments through to their completion.
- If instead, the cause seems to be unreasonable or unrealistic expectations for how quickly Projects and Improvements should be completed, your coaching should be targeted towards leaders in the organization. You’ll want to make sure they understand how to accurately approximate the amount of time needed for their employees to implement Improvements and complete Projects.
- Another issue could be that leaders aren’t supporting people with resources or giving them the time and opportunity to work on improvement.
Items that haven’t been updated lately can be considered a bottleneck
A "Last Updated" date is displayed on every item in KaiNexus. This date lets you know when work was last done on it. A bottleneck occurs when too much time passes without the item being updated. If the Last Updated date was too long ago, leaders might want to check that work is still continuing on it outside of KaiNexus.
If lots of items are going too long without updates, you may have a problem of disengagement - your employees may be losing interest in their improvement work. You’ll want to get people re-engaged so that your improvement culture can continue to thrive.
Best Practice: An Improvement should not go more than 30 days without an update. An item that has gone more than a month without an update may need to be moved to the deferred status.
That being said, it’s important that you check on a Project’s progress before assuming that a distant Last Updated date is a sign of a bottleneck because this date does not necessarily reflect the work done on a nested Improvement. Only changes to the Project itself will update the Last Updated date on a Project.
How do I respond to this bottleneck?
Depending on the underlying cause, there are two approaches to treating this bottleneck:
- As with overdue items, items may not have been updated lately because work on it has ceased. If that’s the case, the Responsible Person and any other relevant team members may need some extra coaching to get the ball rolling again.
- If items are not being updated despite work continuing on them in the workplace, you should consider coaching your employees on the importance of logging their work in KaiNexus.
By recording each step in the process in a central location, you can ensure that information is not lost and that everyone is kept informed. You’ll also be creating a knowledge repository where people throughout the organization can look to see what was done, when, and why.
The easiest bottleneck to address is the Resolution Submitted Status.
After an Improvement’s Resolution has been submitted, but before it has been approved by the Assigned By, its status is Resolution Submitted. At that point, work is no longer being done on the Improvement, but the changes made have not been accepted and the impact of those changes not recorded.
If your Improvements are getting caught in the Resolution Submitted status, you aren’t capturing the value of those Improvements, which could demoralize your staff.
How do I respond to this bottleneck?
Coach leaders to promptly respond to submitted Resolutions - either by accepting or declining them - so that nothing gets lost in the system. Make sure they understand that by completing Improvements, they’re ensuring that a record is kept of which changes were made and how those changes affected the organization.
How do I know if there’s a bottleneck?
There are three main ways KaiNexus tells you if there is bottleneck - Reports, the Status Bar, and filters - but there are numerous reports and other configurations that can be used to make the system even more powerful to identify and address bottlenecks.
The Statuses Report - The Improvement Statuses Report and the Project Statuses Report displays the statuses of all Improvements and Projects created each month.
Look for outstanding New, Overdue, and Resolution Submitted items from previous months.
Click any of the colored blocks to open a list of all Improvements or Projects - depending on the Report you're looking at - from that month that currently have that status.
The Snapshot status bar - Displays the statuses of all Improvements, Projects, Tasks, and Incidents (if your organization has the Incidents Add-On enabled) submitted in the selected time period.
Look for a large number of New, Overdue, and Resolution Submitted Improvements.
Click any of the colored blocks to open a list of all items of that workflow and status submitted in that time period that currently have that status.
Develop a custom list - Filter a list of items to include only items which are caught in a bottleneck.
On the filter window, enter "Bottleneck" as a criterion. Choose any combination of bottlenecks; items that meet your requirements will be returned.
You’ll be asked to specify a time frame. For example, if you choose “New” and “More than 3 days,” you’ll see only new items that were created more than three days ago.
Develop a Card - Create a new List Card on one of your Boards so that you can quickly check for items caught in a bottleneck whenever you log in. You can follow the same steps as just described to add a bottleneck filter to your Card.
A Bottleneck Board is useful for understanding if there are problems or barriers in the continuous improvement cycle. It also gives insight into how engaged the leaders are across the entire organization. Mostly meant for continuous improvement leaders, this Board is set up so that you have a process to see that organizational leaders are engaged with their Improvements and Projects, as well as updating and completing Projects and Improvements in a timely manner.
For information on building a Bottleneck Board, check out this support page.