Bottlenecks are the reason why your projects are costly and slow. Learn how to find and resolve process bottlenecks to establish a smooth, predictable flow.
When was the last time your team delivered a product on time? That is without a delay or any overtime effort from certain members.
Process bottlenecks are among the reasons why projects get delayed, budgets burst from the added cost of delays, and the whole process becomes unpredictable.
Instead of fighting the symptoms, all that a manager needs is a simple bottleneck analysis and a set of prevention measures to save the day.
In this article, you will learn how to use Kanban and Lean to identify and analyze process bottlenecks to establish a predictable flow and put you in control.
In the simplest definition, a process bottleneck is a work stage that gets more work requests than it can process at its maximum throughput capacity. That causes an interruption to the flow of work and delays across the production process.
In other words, even if this work stage operates at its maximum capacity, it still can’t process all of the work items quick enough to push them to the next stages without causing a delay.
The workflow bottleneck can be a computer, a person, a department, or a whole work stage. Typical examples of bottlenecks in knowledge work are software testing and quality review processes.
Unfortunately, a bottleneck is often acknowledged only after it has caused a blockage in the workflow.
There are simple yet effective analysis tools in Lean Management and Kanban that can help you both prevent work congestion and spot an existing bottleneck.
Knowing the types of bottlenecks that can occur in your process helps detect and handle them on time. Based on different factors, process bottlenecks can be categorized into several groups. However, the two main types are short-term and long-term bottlenecks. Let's see how they differ from one another.
Identifying a bottleneck in a process can undoubtedly have positive outcomes for an organization. Bottlenecks are issues and resolving them is key to a stable flow of work. Spotting them on time prevents operational processes from failing and leaves room for overall business growth.
Some of the main benefits that a business can experience by finding and fixing bottlenecks are:
If you see that your workflow is unpredictable and operates in bursts, you have a bottleneck somewhere instead of a smooth flow. The real issue lies in pinpointing it and setting an appropriate countermeasure.
In Lean Management, to detect a bottleneck, you can use several Kanban bottleneck analysis tools. To discuss them in more detail, let’s break down the process of identifying a bottleneck into 3 major steps.
Keeping track of your work in the form of task cards on a Kanban board makes it very easy to see where work items pile up, which is a strong sign of a problem, most likely a bottleneck.
When we separate queues and activities and map them on the Kanban board, we can see how much time our work sits waiting in a queue prior to a certain activity. If this queue grows significantly faster than the activity stage processes work, you have found your bottleneck.
Measuring cycle time at every stage lets you build a cycle time heat map diagram. Just a glance at this diagram reveals the stages where cards spend the most time. If these workflow stages are queues, too, those are probably your bottlenecks.
Several techniques can help identify bottlenecks in a process analysis. Here are some commonly used techniques:
At times, you can easily resolve the bottleneck by allocating more resources or people to that work stage or process. That could mean hiring one more QA tester for the sake of a more streamlined production flow.
However, what if the bottleneck requires a particularly scarce resource or hard-to-find expertise? In some cases, the cost of the solution to the bottleneck can be too high.
Leaving a bottleneck untreated will always cost you more than resolving it.
What should you do next then? Here are several things you should do to contain the bottleneck:
The key to a healthy and productive Flow is the absolute minimum interruption to the process. The work has to stream through it freely, powered by the Pull power.
Following the Lean management concept of continuous improvement, bottleneck analysis should also be an ongoing process.
After all, in the modern, ever-changing markets, every time the relative balance in the production system is disturbed, you will need to review the workflow to see if any new congestions occurred and what needs to be done to reduce their effect.
Get your work under control with Kanban workflows and Lean bottleneck analysis tools to reach an unprecedented level of flow predictability.
A few examples of process bottlenecks include:
Some of the most common types of bottlenecks that can occur in a work process include:
for outcome-driven enterprise agility.
If your team is permanently stressed, delivery dates are consistently missed, and work items never truly flow, you might want to perform a bottleneck analysis. Luckily, in combination with Kanban tools, Lean management empowers you to discover and resolve bottlenecks quickly.