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Posted: July 01, 2011

Keep the business pipeline flowing

When in doubt, call a plumber!

Don Awalt

I recently had a problem with a slow draining sink. Though I knew there was a clog in the pipes, I didn't know just where. I had two choices, test my handyman skills and find the problem myself, or hire a professional. I have done plumbing jobs in the past and knew this could be an easy and quick fix, or it could be an all day ordeal. Either way, it was a dirty job. I called a plumber.

The same "slow draining sink" occurs in business processes, where there is an obstruction getting in the way of desired results. It is a matter of determining where the business pipeline is clogged, and whether it can be solved internally, or the need to call in an expert.

There are many examples of a business pipeline. Obvious examples come to mind such as profitability and cash flow, or business continuity. Another would be production systems in a manufacturing facility. There are also examples of business pipelines that are more subjective in nature, such as employee sentiment and morale which are important to productivity and low turnover. Another example would be a positive interaction with the community or simply, public image.

Any time there is an outcome that is desired, it is preceded by a pipeline of events which must have fluidity for the result to occur. This pipe is a series of steps which are identified, and responsibility assigned. When there is an obstruction, it must be quickly identified and given proper attention, much like my slow draining sink.

Each node of the pipeline can be another pipeline itself. For example, suppose we define the end result as being a productive working environment, where employees are empowered with the incentive to achieve success for the organization as a whole. This result could be preceded by a model of business success with sufficient cash flow to fund employee ownership or profit sharing plans. Such cash flow is preceded by at least two other pipelines, sales revenues and managed expenses to generate that cash flow. And within those pipelines are yet other sub-pipelines, such as the sales pipeline working in conjunction with the pipe to collect receivables on account.

It is not necessary to analyze each process down to minute detail. The important point here is knowing why the end result is important, and to recognize that it is the result of a fluid pipeline of events. It is not important to know how the pipes are assembled, only that they function properly in order for the sink to drain.

To define a business pipeline, begin with the desired end result. Question why it is important. The end result could be declared as "more sales." But why is that important? Of course, cash flow! But why is that important? How is an increase in cash flow going to be managed? The ultimate questions to be answered are, what is important, why is it important, and what are the steps to get it accomplished?

When there is a facet of business that seems clogged, examine the chain of events that lead up to this condition and decide what action is necessary. Then determine whether the pipe can be unclogged by available internal resources. And if it looks like it is beyond the expertise within, then it is probably time to call in a plumber!
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Don Awalt is a speaker/trainer who provides coaching and workshops that employ the nuts-and-bolts logic of business with outside-the-box thinking to overcome obstacles and create life balance. He is the author of the forthcoming book "Baking Your Cake With Sardines, The Recipe for Success" soon to be followed by "O.F." which discusses a unique perspective to overcoming obstacles. He can be reached at 303-923-3583, or Visit his blog at


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Readers Respond

Great article Don! That advice can help me with my golf game too. Thanks for the tips. By liz wendling on 2011 07 01

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