Basic Concepts: Bottleneck

If you have any knowledge whatsoever of process management (or if you’ve read this post), you’ve probably already heard a little about bottlenecks (and I’m most certainly not talking literally about a bottle’s neck).

A bottleneck, in a process management context, is a point in a determined process where the flow of tasks gets impaired or even stops entirely. Bottlenecks most likely happen because there isn’t enough capacity to handle all the task/information inflow – and by capacity we mean all kinds of capacity: data processing, software capacity, people, etc.

The term bottleneck actually refers to the way a bottle is shaped and the fact that its neck is the narrowest part of it, making it the most likely place for liquid to pile up, creating congestion and slowing down the flow of liquid from the bottle.

Taking it from the literal meaning to the actual application in process management, the term is used to describe points of congestion in all sorts of processes, from an assembly line in a manufacturing industry to data processing in softwares or computer networks. The potential results of having a bottleneck are: stalls in production, increase in resource idle time, pressure from customers and low employee morale.

There are both short and long-term (chronic) bottlenecks: the short-term ones are normally temporary and don’t tend to be a significant problem (such as an employee taking days off/out on vacation time or a machine that’s temporarily unavailable); long-term occur all the time and can significantly slow down production over time (such as when a machine is not working efficiently enough and ends up generating a queue).

When does a bottleneck happen?

A bottleneck tends to surface when a resource involved in a phase of a process – by resource you can interpret as a department of your company, a facility or a machine – is already working at its full capacity and can’t handle any additional demand.

Bottlenecks happen when the incoming workload is arriving at a certain point more quickly than this point can handle them, limiting the overall throughput of the whole process. Having a bottleneck in your process tends to create a queue and augment your overall cycle time.

As we’ve already pointed out here, Kanban is a method that allows you to manage your tasks properly, identifying bottlenecks in your processes and optimising resources in order to avoid worse consequences from it.

Manage your processes with Pipefy:

Pipefy’s Task Management Template was specially developed to help you manage yours and your team’s tasks using Kanban and without breaking a sweat.

This template shows you in an organised and simplified manner what everyone is currently doing, what they have to do, and what is already done. It also highlights what are the priorities, what’s on time, what’s late and what’s potentially creating bottlenecks.

Written by Isabelle Salemme, Product content manager at Pipefy. She uses her extensive Pipefy knowledge to write informative pieces teaching users to make the best of Pipefy. Besides being responsible for all product-related content, she's an avid reader, a coffee lover and a professional photographer.