If your processes are designed and run properly, you likely shouldn’t have any delays.
But what if the great processes that you’ve constructed to the nines are still delivering delayed outputs? Did you miss something? Is the process simply not good enough?
If your processes are good, there could be another reason for delays. The answer: Bottlenecks.
Think of your processes as a sunny day at the beach. You’ve come prepared with sunscreen, hats, sunglasses, snacks, an umbrella, and tons of water. But in the middle of your beach day, you run out of the water screaming with a jellyfish attached to your leg.
The jellyfish is the bottleneck, and trust me, it stings just as bad for your business when one of those babies wraps itself around your company processes.
The only difference is you can’t plan for the jellyfish. You can plan for bottlenecks with an effective process management strategy.
- What is a bottleneck?
- Signs you have a bottleneck
- Types of bottlenecks
- How to identify bottlenecks in a process
- How software tools can help with bottleneck management
- Bottleneck management: Prevention is better than cure
What is a bottleneck?
A bottleneck is a situation where you’re dealing with more requests than can be efficiently processed at maximum capacity. The best way to think of it is a wine bottle.
Although being bottlenecked likely drives you to drink wine – at least it does for me – rather think of the narrowing of a wine bottle. Just like it takes longer for wine to pass through the neck of the bottle, workflow tasks can become backed up when there isn’t enough capacity.
Things take longer to pass through your workflow, which incurs unnecessary operational expenses. Any bottlenecks in your processes need to be dealt with to prevent interruptions or timeline delays. All of these problems cause budget spikes, which is something you want to avoid.
Signs you have a bottleneck
Bottlenecks are a real pain but many people treat them as a small bump in the road. You get so familiar with where that bump is that you simply brace yourself until you’re over it.
That isn’t how the journey needs to be. And it can actually cause more damage to you later down the road – see what I did there?
Ignoring a bottleneck in your process won’t make it go away. It will take a large toll on your profitability and productivity. Not to mention, your workforce will be impacted both mentally and physically.
Here are some clear signs of bottlenecks in your processes:
- A dissatisfied and unmotivated workforce
- Bad customer feedback
- Recurring errors
- Overloaded backlogs
- Long delays
- Decreased performance levels
You should view one or more of these indications as a massive red flag. Get down to the root cause as soon as you spot these signs. This will help you smooth out the bottleneck and ensure for a more streamlined journey.
Types of bottlenecks
Don’t you hate it when someone tells you to avoid something unavoidable without giving you a way to avoid it?
Well, that’s not me 😉
The first step is to understand what your bottleneck is. There are two types of bottlenecks you should watch out for:
These system-based bottlenecks occur when an obsolete, slow, or outdated software or system is used to manage your workflows. Examples could include:
- Manual archiving systems
- Slow printers
- Ill-fitting workflow management systems
When it comes to these system-based bottlenecks, upgrading your printing system or management tools might be all you need to get your efficiency back on track.
Performer-based bottlenecks happen when a team member, or your entire team don’t achieve the expected performance level. In most instances, it isn’t your team’s fault for missing the performance level. The root problem could be a lack of clarity or resources given to the team.
If you find you have a performer-based bottleneck, you should speak to the stakeholders involved in the entire process and see what is going wrong and where. The best way to find this out is by using the “5 Whys.”
The 5 Whys Method helps you get to the underlying root cause instead of only focusing on the problem. In this case: Your team/team member not meeting the performance level.
You want to keep asking “why” to your problem until you no longer can. Typically, you’ll have your answer after asking up to 5 “whys” (hence the name). But you might need to continue if your problem is a little more tricky and you need deeper investigation.
Your team didn’t meet the performance level.
They didn’t complete all their tasks within the workflow.
There was a miscommunication about how to complete a specific task.
Not enough clarity was given in the workflow for them to complete the task.
The workflow is outdated and doesn’t account for structure changes within the department.
Solution: The workflow needs to be updated with new information about organizational structures, policies, and procedures. This will ensure employees can clearly understand how to complete each task.
How to identify bottlenecks in a process
The 5 Why’s Method is a great way to get to the root problem of your bottleneck, but how do you really spot bottlenecks in your processes? Let’s face it: You have tons of workflow documentation to sift through in order to find your bottleneck.
Bottleneck analysis, or root cause analysis, is an effective approach to spotting any bottlenecks and resolving them quickly. Three steps make up bottleneck analysis. These are:
Step 1: Map out your process (and find what’s slowing you down)
Process mapping is the best way to identify and prevent bottlenecks. The most important thing you need to consider is having a bird’s eye view picture of your process’s workload.
Process management software, like Process Street, allows you to clearly outline each stage of your process to help get a better overview of your work.
A visual representation of a process helps with problem-solving as you can easily see the flow of work and any disruptions. From here, you can see where this bottleneck is located within your process and why it’s occurring.
Step 2: List your solutions
Now that you know the cause of your bottleneck, you want to determine the best way to address it with an action plan.
There are many options you can choose from when finding a solution and they all depend on the underlying circumstances.
Here are some examples:
Problem: The bottleneck is caused by an understaffed team
Solution: If your team’s overloaded with work, you need to consider both a long-term and short-term solution. That might look like expanding deadlines, delegating, or outsourcing work that can be done through an agency. It’s important to consider what can fit your team’s specific needs and other circumstances.
For a longer-term solution, you should reconsider the scheduling times or performance levels of these processes. Otherwise, expanding your team with new employees might be the best way to solve this understaffing bottleneck.
Problem: The bottleneck is caused by clients’ slow responses
Solution: Your delivery process can become bottlenecked if you’re regularly waiting for client responses or feedback. To prevent this bottleneck from happening, you should get in contact with your client and find the best way of asking for feedback.
Perhaps they miss your emails. Whatever it is, find your client’s reasoning for their late reponses and see how you can prevent it from happening. You might need to write urgent emails all in capital letters. Otherwise, your clients might prefer receiving deliverables.
Problem: The bottleneck is caused by outdated process management software
Solution: Any outdated software is a massive issue. Whether it’s slow to load, has difficult navigation, or it doesn’t automatically save your progress, it’s a headache but it can be a quick fix. Just perform an easy ROI analysis to justify a process management software update.
Problem: The bottleneck is caused by your team doing duplicate work
Solution: Duplicating work can cause frustration and friction within your department alongside slowing down the process. This is something you seriously want to avoid. You can use a workflow management tool to define what tasks each team member is responsible for.
Problem: The bottleneck is caused by micromanagement
Solution: A manager or any stakeholder who is interfering with a workflow will cause the process to slow down rapidly. If micromanaging is the reason for this bottleneck, you should have a meeting dedicated to setting boundaries and delegating tasks.
A lot of the time, micromanaging isn’t deliberate or the result of a lack of trust. It could just be a poor design that asks for more oversight/approvals than is actually necessary. In which case, the meeting should figure out the why – are there unnecessary approvals or does the manager need to give employees more autonomy?
Step 3: Evaluate your improvements
Once you’ve decided on a suitable solution and implemented it, you need to monitor and evaluate its performance. Track your process’s progress and see how it compares to the speed and quality of your previous process.
This information also works as a great way to gather information for future bottleneck management and prevention. It’s always important to remember that you can’t necessarily prevent bottlenecks.
When it comes to specific processes, these bottlenecks are inevitable. But it’s essential to have a proactive approach to identify and manage when bottlenecks do occur. And the best way to maintain this proactive approach is with effectively mapped out processes. This allows your team to become more flexible when congestion is spotted.
How software tools can help with bottleneck management
Utilizing software to analyze your processes is an excellent way to address or avoid bottlenecks. You can easily see what needs to be addressed in your workflows by finding unpredictable areas within your workflow. These areas of uncertainty are where you’re most likely to find a bottleneck.
Another great feature software tools have for bottleneck management is different visual layouts. You can view elements of your workflows as complete reports, overdue work, and as a timeline of tasks. This feature makes it straightforward to notice where work is piled up.
Having all your steps of one workflow laid out in the form of a list helps you understand how all these tasks work together. From here, you can locate any areas vulnerable to congestion and find a way around it. Just like that, you can prevent any potential bottlenecks before running your processes.
Bottleneck management: Prevention is better than cure
Delays from piled up work can cause stress for any business. Being faced with a bottleneck means you’re losing money and working inefficiently.
You’re basically flushing valuable businesses resources down the drain every second you’ve got a bottleneck living inside your processes.
The business world is competitive and this type of internal strain on your company is something you seriously want to avoid. Using workflow management software makes your life that much easier.
You’re given a bird’s eye view of all your business processes to help you have complete visibility over what work is happening and where. Processes are clearly documented within your software tool, which helps you notice any areas of congestion from a mile away.
Do you invest in any type of bottleneck management? What do you do to stop congestion from clogging up your processes? Let us know in the comments.
Grace is a content writer with a thirst for knowledge and coffee. You'll find her reading in a small café or singing at a rundown jazz bar when she's not overconsuming coffee or compartmentalizing her thoughts into a blog post.