Like a slow driver holding up many cars behind it in the fast lane, a “road boulder” may be clogging up the workflow and stopping progress for many other people at your company, or on your team.
It happens in many organizations.
“Road boulder” is a term I coined a few years ago in frustration about the people who drive more slowly than the flow of traffic in the fast lane on the freeway.
Often, there’s a mile or more of clear space – and pure potential – in front of them, but they stop the flow, even so.
The term also cropped up for me because I see road boulders of various kinds in companies’ workflows.
Road boulders not only frustrate the people behind them, but they can also create a very dangerous situation.
On the road, emergency response teams get caught in the no-exit-path logjam they create. In companies, people can be so distracted by problems caused inside the company that they miss significant signs of emerging problems outside the company.
The problem of road boulders can be corrected. And it can be prevented.
If you’re the road boulder at your company, you may be blocking others’ otherwise efficient, effective workflows by actions such as these:
- Providing too little direction, training and feedback to help employees stay on track
- Trying to control things you don’t need to control
- Not controlling things you should be managing closely, especially in high risk areas
- Poorly monitoring how well you’re meeting customers’ needs
- Poorly communicating with suppliers about what you need from them, and how well they’re meeting your needs
How can you find out – and correct the problem – if you or your department is a road boulder at your company?
Check in regularly with the people whose needs you’re supposed to be meeting. These are your customers.
They may be paying customers outside the company, or they could be customers inside the company who need your work in order to do their own.
Check, also, with your manager, if you’re an employee.
Check with your employees, if you’re a manager.
These are all potential customers of your work. You can accelerate their workflows through the work you do, or you can inhibit it. And you may not know what effect you’re having until you ask.
Ask the people who are dependent on the quality of work you provide them:
1. How well are we meeting their needs now?
2. Where could we improve?
3. What are we doing well?
Open the dialogue now, and continue it a few times a year.
You’ll find that the flow will grow as you radically reduce the chances that you and your department are company road boulders.
And in the process of gathering the feedback to make the overall system work better, you’re likely to collect a few accolades for your current work, too.
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