What is a Bottleneck in Process Management?


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

In a process management context, a bottleneck 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.

Bottlenecks in Process Management

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 software 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. It’s crucial to identify bottlenecks to mitigate them as soon as possible.

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, so it’s vital to deal with them if want to have a streamlined flow.

As we’ve already pointed out here, Kanban is one of the methods that allow you to manage your process properly, identifying bottlenecks and optimizing resources in order to avoid worse consequences from it.

Process Management with Pipefy:

Pipefy was specially developed to help you control your processes regardless of the area and with customizable features. If you work in departments such as Finance, Customer Success, Marketing, Human Resources, IT and R&D, take a look in our pug-and-play templates, ready to be used!

With Pipefy is possible to establish a streamlined error-proof workflow, with full visibility of your process and a complete centralization of information. Check out our templates and begin to erase all types of bottlenecks in your processes.

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Isabelle Salemme

Head of Customer Support @Pipefy. She uses her extensive Pipefy knowledge to write informative pieces teaching users to make the best of Pipefy. Besides being in charge of product knowledge, she's an avid reader, a coffee lover and a professional photographer.