Who Is Your Slowest Hiker?

In your work as a blogger, Internet marketer, creative professional or whatever else it is that you do for a living, you follow a particular process for completing the tasks and projects that need to be completed. Let’s say that you’re a WordPress developer, for example, and you design WordPress-based sites and blogs for a myriad of different clients.

Like a Manufacturing Process

To accomplish this, you may follow some variation on this basic procedure. I’m simplifying, of course, but you’ll get the point.

1. Market to potential clients.
2. Get the sale.
3. Discuss the project specs with the client.
4. Develop the site.
5. Request feedback.
6. Implement changes.
7. Deliver final product.
8. Profit.

In going through these steps over and over again, you get very familiar and comfortable with the process and it all becomes second nature for you. You have ambitions to grow your business and to improve productivity (and profits), but you’re not really sure where to begin. Simply taking the shotgun approach and trying to “fix” everything all at once is a complete and utter waste.

Over the Hill and Through the Woods

To better understand how you should be approaching this situation, let’s us explore a little story. Joe is the camp leader for a group of Boy Scouts and they’re going on an all-day hike in the woods. They want to make sure they make it to the campsite before nightfall. Understandably, some of the boys are faster than others.

If Joe were to allow all the boys to hike at their own pace, the fastest kids would quickly race off to the front and the slowest kids would straggle far behind. It wouldn’t take long before there would be a huge gap between the boy in the front and the boy in the back. This represents a safety issue, since Joe is responsible for all of their safety.

So, when the distance becomes too great, he tells the boy in the lead to stop and wait for the rest of the troop to catch up. The problem is that this can become a waste of time, for starters, and by the time the slowest boy catches up, everyone wants to get going again. Meanwhile, the slowest boy is still exhausted and will only get slower if you keep pushing him beyond his limits. What’s the solution?

Put the Slow Kid in Front

In a moment of great insight, Joe flips common sense and logic on its head. Instead of allowing the fastest boy to be in the front, he tells the slowest boy to be in the front. He arranges the boys from slowest to fastest, instructing them that they cannot pass whoever is in front of them. This solves the issue of safety, because it means that the troop will necessarily stay together, even if the fastest kid is the back (and probably getting frustrated at the slower pace).

And because they are taking the slower pace, they probably won’t be able to make it to the campsite before nightfall. By solving one problem, he introduced another problem.

In a second moment of great insight, Joe realizes that the pace of the troop is now being dictated only by the slowest boy, who is now at the front. If he can get the slowest boy to hike faster, the whole troop will also hike faster. He helps to distribute some of the load from the slowest boy’s backpack to the other boys, because it’s weighing him down. He makes sure the slowest boy is well hydrated with plenty of water.

Sure enough, the slowest boy starts to pick up the pace and the whole troop treks ahead. Together. And they arrive safely at the campsite before sunset.

Effectiveness and Efficiency

What can we learn from this parable? Regardless of the kind of work that you do or the project that you’re currently working on, if you want to be more effective and more efficient, you need to identify the “slowest hiker” in your process. It’s not going to help your cause if the fastest hiker gets even faster, because you’ll still be stuck waiting for the slowest hiker.

Let’s go back to our original example of the WordPress site developer. Maybe you’re really efficient at the actual site development itself and you’re really good at working with revisions, but you find that you’re spending too much time trying to attract clients. You might find yourself waiting around for new work to come in, instead of actually working on something.

If that’s the case, your slowest hiker is the sales process. Think about how you can improve that part of your business. Maybe you need a better landing page. Maybe you need to rework your marketing efforts. Maybe you need to hire a sales guy to help you close deals. Investing in software and solutions that will expedite your site development process, at this point, won’t help your business. Getting more sales will.

Of course, your individual circumstances are going to vary widely and there’s always the Pareto Principle to consider too. At the same time, if you can keenly identify the “slowest hiker” for your business, you’ll eliminate those backlogs, keep the machine churning, and get your whole troop to their destination safely and on time.

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