Bottleneck Rules

Clarke Ching book: Bottleneck Rules ISBN:1983022691 (my copy is kindle ASIN:B07DCFR7B4)


I, too, have a sixth sense. And I’m about to teach it to you. I see bottlenecks. Soon, you will, too. You’ll see them everywhere.

You’ll shake your head in disbelief when you realise that something so seemingly harmless has been sitting there, in plain sight, sucking the life out of your workplace and nobody noticed.

Learn the FOCCCUS Formula, which is the surprisingly simple process we use to find and manage bottlenecks. Discover the five key types of bottlenecks. See loads of bottlenecks in action. (The best way to learn to see bottlenecks is by seeing other folk’s bottlenecks.)*

That’s what a bottleneck is. It’s a resource — a person, a machine, a computer CPU, a traffic intersection, a slow internet connection, and even an airport runway — that can’t keep up with the demand placed on it.

I knew it made no difference how fast my order was taken if the barista couldn’t keep up.

many businesses, government organisations and hospitals permanently operate at their 'bad weather' speed, hobbled by a bottleneck that they don’t even realise they have.

One reason is simple: the people running these teams and organisations don’t know about bottlenecks. Another reason is that all the obvious and easy-to-solve bottlenecks have been found — and tackled — and the only bottlenecks that are left are the devious ones.

Within 3 days, all outstanding invoices were processed and paid, the angry phone calls stopped, and the contractors kept working on the fibre-optic project.

About eighteen months ago, while packing my collection of TOC books into a cardboard box, as my family and I prepared to move back to my homeland New Zealand, I realised there was a huge problem with TOC that I felt compelled to try to fix by writing this book.

The bottleneck had created numerous distractions which diverted her and her team’s attention away from it.

my friend Derek Sivers... CDBaby

promised to tell you about five types of bottlenecks. Here are the first two: Wild bottlenecks are often hidden and they’re either unmanaged or poorly managed. We find, then tame them using the FOCCCUS formula. Tamed bottlenecks don’t have as much capacity as we’d like, but they are visible and they are managed.

Other times, after we’ve tamed our wild bottleneck, they hang around, and that’s okay — provided we are managing them,

I wrote this book to help everyday, ordinary people like Sinead find and then manage their bottleneck quickly, no matter what industry they happen to work in.

three most important lessons from The Goal

  • LESSON ONE - The bottleneck determines a system’s output.
  • LESSON TWO - A simple recipe you can follow to find, then manage, your bottleneck. It’s called the FOCCCUS formula: Find, Optimise, Coordinate, Collaborate, Curate, Upgrade, and Start again (strategically).
  • LESSON THREE - The ‘If Everyone is Busy, we must be Productive’ Myth

Don’t read this footnote unless you’re already familiar with Eli Goldratt’s five-focusing-steps. I prefer the FOCCCUS mnemonic

Identify = Find Exploit = Optimise Subordinate = Coordinate, Collaborate, and Curate Elevate = Upgrade Go back to step 1 = Start again (strategically).

Andy Grove... In 1983, Grove wrote a book entitled High Output Management.

He began his book with a deceptively simple manufacturing example that illustrates the idea and importance of bottlenecks (or limiting-steps, as he called them).*

When looking for bottlenecks you don't look for the step that takes the most processing time (the egg); you look for the longest queue (the toaster).


deliberately blinker ourselves and focus intensely on the work the bottleneck does and find ways to "squeeze more work" out of it.

let’s figure out how the non-bottlenecks need to change to improve the output of the entire kitchen. This is where the FOCCCUS recipe’s 3 Cs (Coordinate, Collaborate and Curate) come

We start by Coordinating the non-bottlenecks so they help make the most of our bottleneck.

Collaboration (helping) is richest when you are talking about people rather than machines, but can you think of any other resources — people or equipment — that could help the toaster do its job?

the third C is Curate.

we could Upgrade our toaster by replacing it with a bigger, faster model

And finally, let’s imagine that our toasting capacity has increased so much that that it is no longer the bottleneck. We need to Start again, and go back to the first step, Find.

A deliberate bottleneck is designed to deliberately limit the flow through a system.

You might like to think of deliberate bottlenecks as “throttlenecks”,*

we can place a deliberate bottleneck at the start of a process, and choke, restrict, or throttle the flow of work into the system so it the entire system runs at the speed of the bottleneck.

you think we have a bottleneck like Sinead’s team?” “I do.” Her eyes narrowed. “It’s testing, isn’t it?”

“You’d think I could just recruit a new tester. My budget would go up by one-sixteenth, and our whole team’s productivity would go up by 50%. Brilliant!” She wrinkled her nose. “Problem is, we’ve tried that before and it doesn’t work.”

“I’m wondering if the analysts and developers could do some of the easier testing work? I’ve done that in the past and it worked okay.”

developers. They tend to be so bad at it that they cause more work than they save. Our test manager has banned us from ever doing it again.”

none of them — not even one of them — enjoyed what they were doing; they were putting in the hours out of loyalty to Eve and the company.

I had stumbled across the buffalo joke in the late 1990s.

imagined conversation between Norm and Cliff

an excessive intake of alcohol kills brain cells. Naturally, it attacks the slowest and weakest brain cells first. In this way, regular consumption of beer eliminates the weaker brain cells, making the brain a faster and more efficient machine.

I’ve told this joke hundreds of times over the years. I don’t know exactly why, but there’s something about laughing as a group that engages people and gets them into a more creative, collaborative frame of mind. It also helps that the joke gives them an analogy they can compare with their situation.

you guys do keep interrupting us, asking us a lot of questions about the defects you’re currently fixing and that distracts us from the defects we are working on.

If we weren’t interrupted so much, I bet we’d gain half an hour back each day, easily.”

Don’t start anything new. Don’t even, for now, finish what you’re working on.”

Eve had put a deliberate bottleneck in place,

“You’ve all been working so hard, you’ve not done any training for a long time. You could use some of your down time to catch up.”

are there any other ways we could help you two out? I mean, we might not be as effective as you guys, but is there anything you could off-load to the rest of us to lighten your load?”

you could type in some of our test data.”

we don’t need to key the data by hand! We’re programmers, we automate things like that. I’m sure we’ve got scripts written that you could use!” Lawrence, incredulous, said, “You’ve got scripts that we could use?” “Of course. Hasn’t anyone ever shown you two our scripts?”

help us clean up our testing environments?”

how about we use some of our newfound time to clean them up so they don’t need fixing?

sort through the Waiting Room defects and group them up so that the testers could work on batches of similar defects.

Some defects took 10 times the effort to test than others, and he and Anne would be far more productive if they could avoid them.

There are two more questions we need to ask: Question: Is the bottleneck working on the right stuff? Question: Is the bottleneck in the right place?

Right-stuff bottlenecks are tamed, and their work has been properly curated so they are working on the right stuff.

He soon realised that he wasn’t his team’s bottleneck, but he wanted to be.

Sometimes, people think that being a bottleneck is a bad thing, but this was a deliberate, strategic choice to Upgrade the capacity of the team around a strategic bottleneck: Dr. Petri.

The quick answer is: Find the long queue / big build-up of work in your process, team or organisation, and then look for your bottleneck somewhere in the process just after that.

Almost a year later, Eve and I had lunch together in a little French café around the corner from her office.

that 10-month turnaround time is down to 5 weeks.

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