How to Identify Bottlenecks in a Process

How to identify your process bottlenecks

Bottlenecks are bumps in the road that should instead be smooth processes. They are the barriers between you and your company’s established goals that slow down workflows or even block them. We can find process bottlenecks in: 

  • Project management and service request processes: These bottlenecks are usually information, people, time, and communication.
  • Production and supply chain processes: Factors such as sourcing machinery, raw materials, and suppliers are important and create bottlenecks.

Therefore, it is vital for operations management to focus on quickly identifying and managing bottlenecks. 

The Theory of Constraints, a management paradigm developed by Eliyahu Moshe Goldratt, says every system has to limit factors, also known as bottlenecks. According to the Theory of Constraints Institute, “focusing improvement efforts to better utilize this constraint is normally the fastest and most effective way to improve profitability.” Identifying bottlenecks in your processes is an important step to improve efficiency and help your team reach important goals. 

Although it is essential to identify bottlenecks in processes, this is not an easy exercise and impossible to accomplish if you don’t commit time and effort to do it. That is why many companies seem to insist on using old, outdated processes, even though they are no longer as effective as they used to be. It is crucial to take a step back, analyze your processes, and work to identify their limits and improvement possibilities

A step-by-step to how to identify bottlenecks

To identify if something is wrong with your workflows, you first need to understand the types of bottlenecks that can occur. Short-term bottlenecks are temporary and may affect your process, but they don’t have lasting impacts. Also, you should be aware of the long-term bottlenecks that can block your process and indeed influence your company’s bottom line.

1. Map and analyze your processes

Mapping processes allows you to take a broader perspective when analyzing a process’s overall flow and performance. Observe each process step, its resources, interactions, workflow lead time, and task backlog. This way, you can identify what is restricting production capacity and performance which will reveal existing bottlenecks. 

There are a few tools you can use to map your processes:  a pen and paper, a flowchart using standard symbols, or something with more technology like a process management system such as Pipefy. Thoroughly analyzing your processes may be just what you need to find those unforeseen improvement opportunities to clear out your bottlenecks

When in doubt about how to map your processes and overcome the difficulties, look at your competition. Analyze what their processes look like and how they overcome the bumps on the road. It will not only give you a different perspective but also ensure you maintain a competitive edge.

2. Find the problems and their causes

Once you’ve mapped your processes and their steps, now you can list those critical problems to get to the root cause: what is specifically responsible for diminishing your processes’ effectiveness and creating those process bottlenecks. 

When completing this bottleneck analysis, it’s best to involve everyone who participates in the workflow.  This will allow them to single out mistakes or flaws that an outside observer may not realize.

For example, if you are reviewing a manufacturing process, consider where your production units are operating at maximum capacity, and use metrics such as waiting time, cycle time, and capacity utilization.

Some examples of problems and causes you might find:

  • Delays on final deliveries caused by a slow computer
  • An overburdened employee, while others are vacant
  • Information spread in different channels, causing execution mistakes and delays
  • A machine is operating at full capacity, making other machines operate at a lower capacity.

3. Search for creative solutions to the problems

When you single out your process bottlenecks, you can look at them objectively and start researching ways to solve these problems. This is another step where it’s great to bring in all involved team members. Working as a team with different views and ideas may be what you need to find creative and effective solutions.

Besides providing a wide range of ideas, stimulating interaction will also keep the team integrated and committed to the changes that may prove to be necessary.

4. Implement and evaluate improvement ideas

The team must be in the loop of all steps of the improvement implementation, from mapping the processes to identifying bottlenecks, searching for solutions to elaborating and implementing an action plan.

Keep the improvement process dynamic and continuously re-evaluate the results. Most likely, the first idea for a solution will not be the perfect answer to the problem. However, it is crucial to put your plan into practice to have real-world feedback and continue optimizing the workflow. Continuous improvement by planning, acting, checking, and evaluating will provide you information and data to make any adjustments.

5. Always have alternatives to solutions

Do not disregard any alternative presented while looking for solutions to your problems; consider all options. Keep your plans B, C, and D just in case plan A doesn’t perform as well as planned.

It is essential to monitor your processes regularly to keep them updated and effective. Even old and established processes may lose their effectiveness and need an update from time to time. You can’t set processes in stone; they must be flexible enough to adapt to internal and external changes.

Pipefy helps you manage processes and identify bottlenecks in advance

Pipefy is a business process management software that empowers companies to be organized and more productive by running their processes and daily routines on an easy to deploy, intuitive tool. 

Pipefy’s solution provides process tracking, workflow analysis, and automation to eliminate time-consuming, repetitive tasks. The goal is to help you optimize your processes, avoid bottlenecks and continuously improve your workflows to improve efficiency.

Learn how Pipefy works on our product tour. Or create a free account to try it.

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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