How To Handle Workflow Bottlenecks In Your Business
Imagine you’re working as an in-house graphic designer for a high-profile marketing business. Everything’s going well, and you’ve just finished up the designs for a major advertising campaign. It’s your best work, and you can’t wait to launch them to the world. Before that can happen, the development team need to take your designs and turn them into campaign emails, landing pages and marketing collateral. The problem is, they’re struggling with a backlog of other tasks, and your project comes juddering to a halt, falling further behind schedule every day you wait.
Congratulations, you’ve encountered a bottleneck!
Bottlenecks are very real and serious issues in businesses of all shapes and sizes, and if left unchecked they can cause bigger and bigger problems.
What is a Bottleneck?
In simple terms, a bottleneck is something that impedes the flow of information or progress. In project management, it’s one process in a chain that limits the capacity of the chain as a whole, dragging the performance of the business down. Bottlenecks can happen for any number of reasons, from out of date equipment and scarce resources, to inefficient labour and processes. In general, there are two main types of bottlenecks:
- Short-term bottlenecks. These are caused by temporary problems within the business, for example a critical team member becoming ill or taking a long holiday. If no one else is qualified to take over their projects, this can cause a backlog of work until they return, when the bottleneck eases again.
- Long-term bottlenecks. These tend to occur more often, and be more difficult to solve. An example of a long-term bottleneck would be when a company’s end-of-month reporting process is delayed every month because one person has to complete a series of time-consuming tasks. This then has a knock-on effect for other departments, creating significant delays.
Identifying and fixing workflow/information bottlenecks is key to improving the productivity and efficiency of your business as a whole. They can cause a lot of problems. If left unchecked, they range from:
- lost revenue
- dissatisfied customers
- wasted time
- poor-quality products and services
– not to mention high team stress levels. Overall, not a combination you want.
The Symptoms Of Information Bottlenecks
So how do you know you have an information bottleneck in your business? Sometimes it can be difficult to pinpoint it right away, but there are always traces, and signs that all is not as it should be. A few of the most common symptoms of information bottlenecks include:
- Long wait times. If work is being delayed while you wait for a product, report, more information or just significant wait times between steps, then it’s likely there is a bottleneck somewhere in the process.
- Backlogged work. There’s too much work piled up at one end of a process, and not enough at the other end.
- High stress levels. Employees (or you) are unable to get on with a task or part of a process. Or knowing that you are holding up others. Both can cause stress and anxiety, causing performance issues.
Using Process Mapping To Identify Bottlenecks
You may be able to recognise the symptoms of an information bottleneck in your business, but it can be a whole other task to work out where they are, and then how to fix them. One of the best methods we can suggest to help you identify bottlenecks is to map and analyse the processes in your business. This allows you to pick apart every detail of every process, and look at them from the outside to analyse their overall performance. When it’s all laid out on paper, it becomes much easier to identify where your bottlenecks are – they’re the steps that, due to lack of capacity or even performance, restrict your production capacity.
Thoroughly analysing your processes may also be just what you need to find those unforeseen improvement opportunities. When in doubt about how to map your processes and overcome the difficulties, look at your competition. What do their processes look like and how do they overcome the bumps on the road? This will not only give you a clear vision but also ensure your competitive edge.
At Process Envision, we believe that process mapping should be available to everyone. That’s why we offer full process mapping workshops to business owners who want to understand their processes more fully and identify where the bottlenecks in their business are. With our help you can root out the causes of the problems, create a plan for change and make a real impact on the productivity of your business.