Bottlenecks can be the result of various issues. Understanding what’s going on is essential in addressing them and help release the brakes on your practice. Here’s my Top 5 causes starting with some of the more tangible and easier to address, and finishing with the less comfortable and challenging.
The reality in architectural practice is that the work can be lumpy. One week over-extended the next over-quiet. The unexpected bottleneck is simply an occupational hazard. The problematic bottlenecks are the ones where it’s reasonable to have anticipated that more resources are going to be required. For example, there’s not enough people to finish the documentation, a design director can’t keep up with reviewing all the projects, copy-writing for various submissions is falling behind, and so on. It happens when there’s been a failure to review the pipeline of work coming up in the next 6 months and no plans have been made to employ people or build the expertise to complete the work.
Bottlenecks are happening as a result of poor planning.
The greater the responsibility, the greater the time demands and the lesser availability. Senior architects, those responsible for teams of people and multiple projects are regularly stretched. Everyone is demanding their attention. Pulling them into meetings. Requiring them onsite. Earbashing them in over-involved phone conversations. Reporting duties to multiple stakeholders. And that’s before consideration of non-project responsibilities such as business development. It can be a lot. And what tends to happen is that they’re not available enough to their team, unable to give answers or make decisions.
The bottleneck begins because those with ultimate responsibility have divided or limited time and attention.
The job hog
The architect who wants to do it all. And often when it comes to design work. It entails them working through all the major design decisions, going to all the meetings on a project and micro-managing all the work. No decision can be made without their input. Consequently they simply don’t have the time to do all the things. This can be seen more typically in small practices, but medium sized ones are not immune from delegation deficiencies. This might be the result of an overly enthusiastic and involved architect, or through distrust (see below).
The Job Hog is one of the easiest bottlenecks to avoid, if only they’d let others do some of the work!
Micro-management and taking on the majority of significant tasks, is often a sign of distrust. An attitude of a “manager” that considers they’re the only one that can do the job properly. The distrust ensures that no-one is trained up to take on the work and it’s a self-perpetuating cycle. Eventually the work backs up and no-one is capable (or entrusted) to assist in alleviating the load.
The bottleneck is a tangible representation of a failure of trust.
A lack of agency
Problems begin when staff are not empowered to make certain decisions or take on certain responsibilities. It’s a progression from being Under-resourced or Unavailability. It might be an issue of trust, but not always. It’s often a hierarchical attitude keeping the team in their place. When staff have agency they can better support others, whether that’s people above or below in the hierarchy. They can pick up slack, make decisions or even anticipate what might be required and take it upon themselves to do the work. When there’s no agency they must wait until those that have it, use it.
Without agency staff are unable to help address the bottleneck they might be seeing or anticipating.
Fixing the bottlenecks
It seems obvious to suggest identifying and addressing these typical causes of bottlenecks, practices can improve their efficiency, productivity, and overall performance. It’s easy to suggest better resourcing of their practice but as I’ve just discussed it’s not always the resources that are the problem.
There are some quick wins to be gained and I’ve already touched upon them. But rather than just heading off each type of bottleneck as they’re identified, it’s better to think more holistically about the issues and I’ll go into depth in my next post.
Picture by Markus Spiske [edited]