Byron's Babbles

How Do We DeBottleneck?

I am now to the next-to-last topic I put on a list that I wanted to blog about following the SMART Factory League 2022 Summit in Hamburg, Germany. During one of the sessions a speaker posed the question, “How do we debottleneck?” I have actually blogged about bottlenecks before in The Leadership Bottleneck! At first I was going to say that the post I did back in 2015 was done in a different context, but as I went back through it I realized it was still very evergreen today.

I love metaphors and the idea of a bottleneck is a metaphor referring to how the speed of pouring a liquid changes when it enters the narrow neck of a bottle. Bottlenecks usually determine the capacity of a process. Bottlenecks develop simply because in any process – be it a manufacturing line or business process – different activities take different amounts of time, or various stages have an uneven capacity, to unequal numbers of resources.

Bottlenecks also occur because of batch processing. Machines and workers are sometimes only available at limited times during the day or week. Therefore, to increase efficiency, the raw materials are organized in batches so that the time windows are utilized fully. It’s pretty obvious how this batching causes bottlenecks in manufacturing, but then I got to thinking about how we batch in education and how that causes bottlenecks. Last week I had the chance to facilitate a session rolling out Aspen Institute’s latest framework for education, Opportunity to Learn, Responsibility to Lead, and we go into a discussion of what the future of school should look like. Now, looking back on that discussion we were really talking about debottlenecking in many instances.

In education, the term bottleneck is used in both describing the pedagogical issue of barriers to the students’ understanding of content in the process of learning. Bottleneck is also used to describe times when a student enters a phase of progression where academic performance and competition come into play. Both of these bottlenecks are compounded because of how we presently “batch” our students into grades and groupings. This inherently causes bottlenecks. This is why we need to consider looking to a more competency based model. The more we can personalize and become student centric we can eliminate batching bottlenecks.

Bottlenecks can cause both the student and the institution to incur increased educational costs, waste time, and delay completion of dual credits, certifications, and work based learning opportunities. So, just like the manufacturing industry must debottleneck, we need to consider the ways to debottleneck education.


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