Process bottlenecks occur when input volume is higher than output, or when blockages hold up the initiation of a process. The term compares organisational processes with the flow of water: the wider a bottle’s neck is, the more water can flow out; the smaller the bottle’s neck, the less water can flow.
Managers and executives can often become approval bottlenecks in their processes, as most of the work is only initiated or finalized with their input. Identifying and fixing bottlenecks is crucial for the success of the team and the business. These blockages and delays can cause problems such as:
increased bench time
increased stress in team members
low-quality products or services
In traditional businesses, identifying bottlenecks is pretty straight-forward, but in today’s increasingly complex work environment, where multiple projects are being managed simultaneously, tasks can fall through the cracks if they’re not prioritized and tracked correctly, or if the dependencies have not been determined at the planning stage of the project.
The best way to pre-empt priorities and dependencies is to take a project management approach to designing process maps. Project management at it’s most basic is the breaking down of a large task into smaller pieces, to manage each piece, to create long-term success. This breaking down a process means:
- detail each and every step in the process
- assign roles
- estimate durations
- estimate deadlines
- create approval processes
- establish who needs visibility to approve
- proactively identify possible problems
A project management tool can help managers effectively plan each project, from processes and approvals to resources, assets, and budget, to gain the visibility needed to drive project success.
When Basic Project Management Fails:
Even when appropriate planning has taken place, bottlenecks can still occur, and reacting to those blockages appropriately is one of the most important skills managers need to learn in dynamic environments.
The two main important steps to overcome a bottleneck are:
- to increase the efficiency of the blocked step or
- decrease input volume to the bottleneck step
The following are practical ways to achieve efficiency, whilst decreasing input volume:
- Managers can increase efficiency by ensuring that input given related to approval requests is of a high quality
- A clear assignment structure needs to be given: if this is governed by a request form it can help employees better understand the dimensions of a task and get better guidance on how to perform work. A request form can also minimise the time managers spend assigning work, as the main structure is there, and automation of processes can be designed
- Timelines for completion should be monitored over time and communication should regularly go to the team about persistent missed deadlines or bench time to constantly be iterating towards improved time allocations
- To decrease the volume of approvals necessary, managers can create playbooks, where organization guidelines are shared to improve consistency and minimise the changes necessary to produce a quality output
How can you apply this to your organization?
- Document your processes: formalize your team’s workflow.
- Identify bottlenecks: find what the key points of the process are where you’re likely to encounter bottlenecks.
- Streamline and automate your processes: investigate project management tools that can help you build efficiency and streamline request, project creation, and approval processes.
- Effective implementation: consider utilizing onboarding services from consultants who specialise in the streamlining and automation of processes in your chosen solution.
- Communicate to the team: a new way of working requires a new mindset: help the team make the shift.
- Design company playbooks: brand guidelines to help your team stay on track.
- Continuous improvement: review your processes and workflows often, if you find more bottlenecks, further analyse the process.