What is a Bottleneck?

A bottleneck is an inefficiency in a process that slows progress, often by increasing the workload.

A bottleneck is a constraint in the process that creates a backlog of work to be done. These are typically not good for any process. The following questions may help the team understand the nature of the bottlenecks:

  • What is being constrained: information, product, service?
  • Why does the bottleneck exist, what are the factors contributing to the bottleneck, and are these factors people, systems, or organisational?
  • Is the bottleneck the result of handoffs or lack of information?
  • Is the bottleneck the result of a resource constraint and what type of resource: human, system, or machinery? 
  • Are there unnecessary checkpoints that create the bottleneck that can be eliminated?
  • If multiple streams are processing information in parallel, do the streams come together at the same time or is one waiting for the other?
  • Does the process create a backlog upstream or downstream from the process?

How to tackle bottlenecks

Multiple solutions are available to tackle identified issues. Bottlenecks must go through a deep analysis to find the most suitable resolution.  Here are some suggestions of how to deal with bottlenecks:

  • Increasing the workforce and/or operators – with a larger workforce it’s possible to create a smoother transition between processes, increasing efficiency.
  • Minimising downtime – With proper preparation it’s possible to reduce setup and changeover times giving more time to focus on the actual work.
  • Eliminating unnecessary activities – Remove waste operations to give more time for your efficient processes, increasing productivity.
  • Provide a constant buffer stock upstream – The most effective processes are in perpetual motion. They require stocks and materials to be ready for use immediately.

Further resources:

Read about the Lean technique called Makigami to learn how to find bottlenecks and other faults

Source: Business Process Management Common Body of Knowledge (BPM CBOK, 2009), The Association of Business Process Management Professionals