How to manage bottlenecks

Bottlenecks are common villains that can affect your process’ effectiveness. We’ve already gone over the general definition and how you should proceed in order to identify the existing bottlenecks in your processes. If your company is facing difficulties with producing/delivering your products/services in the expected time, you may have found yourself a bottleneck to deal with.

The production processes of most products and services consist in a series of operations that must be followed in a pre-determined order in order to achieve a final goal. Being a series of operations/activities, the overall rhythm of the process will inevitably be determined/limited by the slowest operation in the process.

Constraints vs. Bottlenecks

The impact of this restrictions on the process will be determined mainly depending on whether the slowest resource’s speed generates a bottleneck or if it’s only a constraint. To be able to determine whether you’re faced with a bottleneck or constraint, you’ll first need to be able to define them both:

  • Constraint: it’s an operation that restricts the output of the entire process. It may be a physical – due to equipment, personnel, lack of information or materials – or managerial – due to policies or standard operation procedures – constraint. Every process has a constraint;
  • Bottleneck: it’s a constraint that impacts the process’ output not allowing it to achieve the determined goals. A constraint may limit your production to “x” units a day – as long as your sales average is below “x”, it won’t create a bottleneck.

In order to maximize your overall system performance, you’ll need to have a few ideas clear on your mind:

  1. A bottleneck restricts the output of the entire process (it doesn’t matter how well your system works regardless of the bottleneck – if there’s a bottleneck, it’s limiting the system);
  2. Time lost due to a bottleneck is time lost for the entire system;
  3. Time saved in operations other than the bottleneck will not increase your output (it may benefit your company in other fronts and even help reduce cost, but it will still be pretty pointless if the bottleneck is not being addressed).

Addressing the whole subject of identifying, managing and solving bottlenecks would end up on a huge, lengthy article. Instead, we’ll settle for offering a few tips on how you can help increase output at bottlenecks.

Increasing output at bottlenecks

Whatever action you take that impacts the bottleneck directly will inevitably impact the whole system, since it’s currently what’s limiting it. Therefore, improving your work methods and results at the bottleneck will consequently result in improvements on both system output and efficiency.

Once the bottleneck is identified, create a safety buffer before it to ensure you won’t run out of work and have idle resources while the pile at the bottleneck just keeps on growing. Also, ensure the bottleneck’s resources are always top quality and cross-train your staff so the bottleneck itself will never be left idle due to an absence or an equipment being broken.

Also, keep your bottleneck under close scrutiny and avoid errors that may further impact and reduce its already limited output (if you don’t know how to make it better you may settle on not letting it get worse).

Ensure that the work received at the bottleneck is at its highest quality possible – if you let mistakes occur before the bottleneck and the work arrives at it with less quality than expected, it’ll create further problems and speed reduction. It’s essential to always manage bottlenecks closely and monitor performance variables so you can determine the impact of every action you take in order to keep moving in the right direction (and not shooting in the dark).

Deciding to use one or more of these techniques should be enough to help increase the output at your processes bottlenecks, consequently improving overall activity/production output and economic results for the entire company.

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Written by
Isabelle Wuilleumier Salemme
Head of Customer Support @Pipefy. She uses her extensive Pipefy knowledge to help users make the best of Pipefy via support and writing informative content pieces. Besides being in charge of support, she's an avid reader, a coffee lover, and a professional photographer.

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