Solve The Biggest Bottleneck First
When overwhelmed with challenges, ask "What's the one thing holding our business back right now?"
It's a familiar scene: a passionate first-time founder, eyes wide with ambition, lays out an intricate plan to change the world. Ask them how they're really doing, and they recount an exhaustive list of problems they need to solve and a sense of urgency to fix everything right away.
It's natural for a founder to be overwhelmed by the magnitude of what they're trying to accomplish. But there's good news, and it lies in a simple, yet profound truth that I've learned over the years of running Semaphore.
Here it is: at any given moment, your business needs you to solve exactly ONE constraint that's holding it back. Not ten or twenty, just one. Everything else, no matter how pressing, can take a back seat.
Think of your business like a chain, with each link representing a different challenge. The weakest link – that's the one you need to repair first. The others can wait. Because no matter how shiny, strong, and polished the rest of the chain is, it's only as strong as that weakest link.
Once you have tackled the biggest bottleneck, you'll find that progress begins to unfold more smoothly. You can then turn your attention to the next most significant constraint, and so on.
Now, I'm not saying that you should ignore all other problems – that's just unrealistic. But prioritizing your efforts and tackling one constraint at a time allows you to make meaningful progress without stretching yourself too thin.
Developers tackle software bottlenecks by using profiling tools to identify slow application screens. They sort these by load time, creating a prioritized to-do list with the most critical issue at the top.
Similarly, product managers sort feature requests by combining factors like number of requests in different customer segments, effort required, and revenue impact.
The good news is that the Pareto Principle applies. In most cases, you'll find that addressing the top 20% of constraints will render the remaining issues significantly less urgent or even irrelevant.
So, next time you're feeling overwhelmed by the sheer number of growth challenges on your plate, remember to slow down, identify that single biggest constraint, and work on it until it's resolved. It's a game-changer, and it just might be the key to unlocking the full potential of your business.
Thanks for reading The Operately Blog! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support my work.