Know Where to Focus – how to spot the Pacesetter in your process

Prefer to watch rather than readClick here – 5 mins with captions.

You don’t want to waste your money and your people’s time by not working on the highest leverage point of the system.  Here’s how to make sure you get this right.

In a previous post I went through the importance of Not Bothering the Barista.  I know I’m a broken record on this, but once again:

If a process must go through A, B and C to get to the customer and the number in each box represents how many they can do per period, then the system can’t go any faster than B.  And rather than using the term ‘constraint’ or ‘bottleneck’, I use ‘Pacesetter’ because it’s, well, nicer.

And conveniently B is the first letter of ‘Barista’, which will always be the Pacesetter in a café.  Therefore, Don’t Bother the Barista!

All of this comes from Eli Goldratt in his book The Goal, where he even lays out five steps for improvement, the first of which is of course (in my words)

Identify the Pacesetter.

Here’s some ways to do that.


If you’re running a fancy ERP and are one of the few organisations where this has actually improved things (I’ll leave you to ponder whether I am cynical or a realist), you might have some data which can reveal your Pacesetter. Look for the stage in the process where some version of ‘backlog’ or ‘inventory’ number is the biggest….and you’re on the right track.

(By the way…. this sort of information is exactly the point of having a fancy system…so things work better for those doing the work.  Not so senior people get fancier reports)


“I totally understand why IT hasn’t done my thing first, because it’s not in the best interests of the whole organisation”.

– No one ever

The area that generates the most complaints is likely to be the Pacesetter.  We all want our thing to be done first (just ask my kids….and do we ever change?).  Not because we are bad…. but because we are good!  We want to add value.   And most changes today are going to involve technology.  Which means…IT is the Barista!

And remember in the A-B-C diagram above, there are A’s all over the place…all channelling their work into B.  And then expecting B to just ‘sort it out’ in terms of what to do first.

As humans we can’t naturally see the impact we have on the full system (just ask Greta Thunberg), so we naturally will agitate to get our bit done first.  And how do we do that in organisations?  Not by saying “I’m the most important person around here”, because that would not look good, but by…complaining.

Follow the complaints…and you’ll likely find the Pacesetter.  So you can help them.  Right?


In a factory it’s sometimes easy to see the Pacesetter.   You go look where the inventory is piling up.  In office jobs…it’s all hidden in Inboxes amongst the million other tasks people have decided other people need to do.  Just send an email, and it’s now their problem!  Voila!

What you do here is get a group of people together who are involved in the process, work out the rough stages it involves, and ask “which one of these stages do you have to wait for the longest”.  For example, if the work involves handling customer complaints which require investigation, perhaps the longest wait is always when information is requested of a certain area of the business. 

Remember, they are not delaying response because they are mean…they genuinely have better things to do.  What this thinking reveals, however, is that improving the way information first enters the process will have no impact on total time unless it somehow helps that group respond faster. 

And further…. perhaps by simply having  a conversation with that group, some obvious things can be changed which will make it easy for them to respond faster.

The point is, you’ll never spot the obvious if you don’t work out where to look.  So just ask.

Look at Pictures!

This one I discovered working with a client a little way back.  The business involved customers calling for tradespeople to come to their houses for repairs that needed to be done quickly. 

In their efforts to both reduce cost and to increase customer service by decreasing time (yes, yes, and maintaining quality and friendliness too), they had measured each bit of the process beautifully.

  • Time to answer calls
  • Time of each phone call
  • Drive time to job
  • Arrival time to start work
  • Work time

….and more.  You get the idea.

Due to these diligent efforts, and because the work was spread across two teams (phones and tradies), they had gradually stopped looking at total time from customer first phone call to tradie leaving the premises.

Before you scoff….do you have a measure like this?  Really?  And then I ask…how do you display it?  Because….

What we did immediately was put up the End-to-End time from the customer’s view on a graph, like this:

Note, this is not an average per month.  That info is for Boards or whatever other distant body oversees.  Averages are useless for improving the process.  For that, we need pictures, which shows the time for each event.  

The change was immediate – discussion started occurring about why the graph was that shape.  People were engaged.  Which then lead us to all that data they had collected, but this time…showing it in pictures.

And this looked like:

Now’s when the magic emerged.  Remember, our question was ‘what stage of the process is the Pacesetter’?  Everyone stared, then at roughly the same time, everyone pointed to Graph 4.

Why?  Because the shape of Graph 4 was the same as the Overall Graph.  It was the one with the most impact on overall time.

Therefore…it was the Pacesetter!

It was a cool moment.

From there, the analysis team in the room set to work on what caused Graph 4 to move the way it did.  They quickly found some obvious changes that were already known, but had been buried in the backlog, and implemented them. As you would expect, the shape of Graph 4 changed, and the Overall time improved.

A picture, or in this case, a graph showing time-per-event, was worth well over 1,000 words.

Bringing it Home

Once you know the goal of a system, get the group together and use some of these methods to find the part of the system that has the most impact on that goal.  The Pacesetter.  Call it the 80/20 rule, call it leverage, call it Napoleon’s strategy of focussing resources at the weak point.

To not do this might consign your team to endless improvement ideas that ultimately go nowhere.  Instead, use the capabilities of your people to focus on what matters, by spotting that key Pacesetter step.

You can’t speed up coffee production if you haven’t spotted the Barista.

Now, over to you.

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