Bottlenecks (Issue 1115)

In which we are reminded that the pace at which we recommend ideas or products should be no faster than clients’ abilities to absorb and implement them.

Yesterday was “haul the fleet” day at Community Boating in Boston. Our season ended on October 31 and yesterday was the day to pull out of the water about seventy 15-foot sailboats. The boats are moored in a slip at the main dock along the Charles River.

The haul-out procedure is fairly simple. One group of volunteers pulls the boats out of the slip and leads them about 50 yards down the dock. Another, smaller group of volunteers pushes the boats, one by one, across a short channel. A third group of volunteers pull the boats, one by one, up a ramp onto four wheeled carts. A fourth group of volunteers pushes the carts down the dock and flips the boats over so that they are bottoms up, ready to be power washed.

We had about 40 volunteers show up yesterday morning. We divided into crews and began to work. After about 30 minutes, it became clear that the volunteers pulling the boats to the end of the dock, ready to be pushed and hauled, could work much faster than the crews who were hauling the boats, pushing them down the dock, and flipping them over. At one point we had about a third of the fleet, 20 boats, tied up in bunches at the end of the dock, waiting to be pushed across the channel and hauled.

We discussed redeploying people so that we had more capacity and speed on the “haul” side and the answer came back, “it wouldn’t matter, we have only so many carts, and it wouldn’t matter if we had more people. We can only go so fast as the number of carts allows.”

If the boats waiting to be hauled were our ideas for a client (and, of course, we’d have a LOT of ideas) and the “haul-cart-and-flip” crowd were our client, there would be no point in our pushing more boats across the channel if there were not enough client capacity to haul them in and push them into the organization. If we kept pushing boats across, our client would conclude that we didn’t really understand them and that we were just interested in pushing.

Nick Miller is President of Clarity Advantage based in Concord, MA. He assists banks and credit unions to generate more and more profitable relationships, faster, with business clients, their owners, and their employees through better sales strategies and execution. Additional articles on Clarity’s web site.

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