What the Ever Given Suez Canal obstruction teaches us about relieving bottlenecks in our businesses

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The Ever Given Suez Canal obstruction

On March 24, 2021, the containership Ever Given, one of the largest in the world, with a capacity for over 20,000 TEUs (twenty-foot container equivalent units), on a voyage from Shanghai to Rotterdam departed the main channel in the Suez Canal and grounded on its eastern bank. Later, the vessel’s stern, pushed by high winds, grounded on the western bank. This accident stopped the passage of over 450 ships through the Canal, forcing many ships on the much longer journey to Europe around Africa’s Cape of Good Hope. Losses associated with the event amounted to tens of billions of US dollars.

Over 30% of the world’s waterborne containerized cargo passes through the Suez Canal. Although the causes of the grounding remain under investigation, they were likely both simple and avoidable. The contributory causes probably included weather, a systems failure on board, and a lapse in so-called BRM (Bridge Resource Management). Weather can be forecast; systems failure modes are well-known; and BRM, a concept adapted from the airline concept of CRM, is entirely determined by human decisions. What lessons can we learn here?

Complex systems fail, often in ways that are foreseeable

Complex systems fail, and if a system is widespread or heavily used, systems failure effects can be large; however, many if not most failure modes are foreseeable. The Ever Given event is a dramatic illustration of the role of chokepoints, or bottlenecks, in containerized cargo trade. Similar bottlenecks exist in the flow of global information, and less dramatically, in our daily lives. For instance, bottlenecks in the global information flow occur where undersea cables come together; examples include Tokyo Bay, the tip of the Malay Peninsula, and…the Suez Canal.

Source: z_wei | Getty Images

And we can see bottlenecks all around us daily: supermarket checkout stands, stairways to train platforms, and unavoidable traffic jams. Given the pervasiveness of bottlenecks, the question is, how can you design your business to be more failure-proof? And what resources should you draw on in your planning process?

Assess risks and threats and relieve bottlenecks

To design your business away from failure, there are simple procedures to follow:

1. Identify and evaluate reliable public information sources, and maintain a list of them.

2. Regularly conduct internal risk assessments and office and plant walk-throughs.

3. Meet regularly with your team members and relevant stakeholders to discuss findings, propose solutions, and check on the implementation of solutions already proposed. Plan to relieve or elevate bottlenecks by:

  • Performing process improvement on the bottleneck, starting with analyzing its use
  • Examining the use of the bottleneck to even out the demands on it
  • Adding resources at the bottleneck

Bring on a trusted advisor

Reliable information sources and defined internal procedures are good steps in designing your business for resilience. But there is one other kind of resource to consider. In your process of designing away from risk, an outside advisor can play an essential role. Outside advisors can bring a fresh perspective to a problem, provide an unbiased viewpoint on your business, ensure that views throughout your organization can be fairly presented, and bring broad experience of both specific industries and current business problems.

Tractus Asia is a trusted advisor to both private sector companies and public organizations in assessing new market opportunities and growing businesses in Asia and beyond. Whether it’s crisis management in Myanmar after the coup d’état, dealing with the impacts of COVID-19 in India, or navigating regulatory obstacles to your cross-border investments, Tractus is here for you. Clients trust Tractus to blend high-level perspective with operational experience to guide more informed decision-making—including relieving bottlenecks.

Ever Given Image Source: Maxar Technologies


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