Are Business Bottlenecks Limiting Your Success?

And - do you have a bottleneck or a cork?

In previous insights we’ve looked at input to an article on (software) applications bottlenecks.  However, the bottlenecks may not be software-related at all.  Now we’ll cover the article inputs that have implications for two broader types of bottlenecks:  product and business.  Or maybe you don’t have a bottleneck, but are “corked” … completely blocked.

Are Business Bottlenecks Limiting Your Success? - Mike Russell

Businesses have a wonderful opportunity to learn from startups.  Startup application development is usually a life or death matter.  Larger businesses should look at that mindset in place of the “same old, same old” rhythm of incremental development and mediocrity.

Because most current day startups (not the dot com boom ones) are relatively lean, startup methods start lean.  Leanness generates additional capacity and speed by not wasting time and effort on non-value adding activity. 

Also, a startup’s application is their product and is their business.  Therefore, startup approaches tend to take a more holistic view of success and tend to be more successful than “projects” as a result.  Silos in a startup are usually non-existent … there are different skill sets but everyone is in the same boat and rowing in the same direction.

Focusing only on application development speed is like focusing only on the race car engine RPMs and not the track and finish line.

Using a tachometer only, without speed, fuel, and other gauges, not to mention being able to see where going and progress made, is useless for driving and also for application development.

Agile approaches emphasize frequent deliveries and ability to change priorities of most features not yet built, the opposite of monolithic, “all or nothing” change-averse approaches like classic waterfall.  Frequent deliveries allow leveraging the Pareto Principle to deliver higher value application features first, gain feedback, make changes to remaining features, and possibly move on to another application where value is higher than delivering the remaining features.

Providing the ability to change priorities and requirements also reduces the natural inclination of stakeholders to “load up” products with requirements for everything they ever could want, as non-agile delivery time is so long and waterfall methods only allow one chance to put requirements in at the beginning.

Feedback is critical to product and business success.  Responsive agility is impossible without feedback that allows adjustments.  Feedback cycles should be faster than the overall market rate of change so the business does not fall behind the market.  Feedback cycles should be faster than competitors – or would-be competitors – so the business can seize and maintain market advantage.

“Many businesses face an application development bottleneck” – a statement in the original call for submissions – assumes the business bottleneck is application development.  If the entire flow from idea to deployment, use, and maintenance is considered, that assumption could very well be false.

The whole flow of value to the user/customer needs to be optimized, not just “application development.”  Optimizing one area will usually suboptimize the whole.  That means unless the overall flow has been examined and yes, unless application development is the bottleneck, optimizing application development can actually make matters worse from the broader product and business perspectives.

But what if you don’t have just a bottleneck but are “corked”?  The first order of business is triage to get things moving again.  Most businesses take that step.  However, most business do not take the next step:  looking for root cause in the entire flow, not just “software,” and then taking action to address root cause.  And even fewer repeat the process of addressing root cause of current issues or continuously improving.

If you have products or services that include software in some form, don’t get sucked into the illusion that “fixing” software and application development is the panacea to success.  Take the broader view, understand what customers need, deliver valuable solutions that meet the need, and get sufficiently rapid feedback to adjust as needed.

If your business has products or services that don’t include software, the same guidance applies.  Don’t get suckered by silos.


  • What seems to be the bottleneck in your business?
  • Is that an assumption or do you have data to prove the bottleneck?
  • If you don’t have data, what can you do to quickly verify – experiment – to test the assumption?
  • Is your business focused on the total value flow and optimizing it rather than each functional area optimizing their respective silos?  What can you do to start change?

By Mike Russell