The Weakest Link
I recently watched a short video by a "motivational" speaker. During his talk, he used the phrase weakest link a few times. I admit that I am not a motivational speaker, but I think a term like weakest link is more demotivating than motivating.
Though I disagree with the presenter on the use of the term weakest link in a motivational speech, I do think it is an good description for the things that hinder all businesses and impact their ability to grow.
If a business owner wants to grow but is unable, or unwilling to identify the weakest links within his internal operations, than that owner will be unable to grow because these weakest links will continue to constrain their efforts. This does not mean the owner has done something wrong, as these “weak links” are very often the result of the business reaching its throughput limits.
For example, take a lawyer who is a sole practitioner who spends 12 hours per day on personal time for sleeping, eating, family time, travel to/from work, etc; and 2 hours per day for practice management and marketing. That leaves only 10 hours a day for billable legal work. Barring changes to his personal time or practice management time, this lawyer’s ability to work for clients is CONSTRAINED at 10 hours per day.
If this time constraint is not recognized then the lawyer will not be able to effectively take on new clients once work exceeds 10 hours per day. So unless he makes a conscience decision to either adjust his personal or practice management time, or to bring in an associate who can add more billable hours to the day; his ability to grow is constrained by the clock.
Constraints are not just time related. They can be anything preventing you from reaching a goal. They can be internal, i.e. your current widget capacity is 800 per week, but you have an immediate order for 1000. Or they can be external. Perhaps you want to hire a second shift but the job market is too tight and you cannot fill the positions quick enough.
More often than not, constraints are discovered at the 11th hour, like when that 1000 widget order comes in. At the 11th hour, this is a problem. But if you were aware of the production limit constraint, and you know that you occasionally have peak orders that exceed normal production rates, you can plan to adjust production during slower periods to build up an inventory of X units allowing you to meet these peak demands without issue.
Being able to identify and deal with constraints on a schedule that the business controls, is one of the reasons that it is so important, perhaps critical, for businesses of any size to be systematized.
A key component of systematizing your operations, is to break things into their contributing parts and rebuild them in the most efficient and effective manner. In doing so, areas that could be or are constraints will surface. That does not mean that you have to immediately address every little constraint you find. But it does let you identify the constraints you are facing and create a schedule (aka a system) to proactively address them, which will allow you to manage your growth and not be stalled by your constraints.