How to Identify and Correct a Bottleneck Problem

Picture this: Your team is overloaded with work and requests are piling up that you know you won’t be able to tackle this week. The team’s backlog is growing and stakeholders are asking where their projects are.

We’ve all been there. A bottleneck is slowing down your team and soon this delay could ripple into the rest of your organization.

Regardless of the industry, these blockages happen in every organization. While some are unavoidable, if you identify potential bottlenecks early on and build contingencies directly into your process, you’ll significantly improve productivity, save idle time, and boost revenue.

What is a bottleneck problem?

A bottleneck is a delay in a workflow that hinders productivity and speed. They come in countless forms for in-house teams and agency partners, such as long feedback wait times or trying to make an outdated system work. Never neglect bottlenecks because they cause ripple effects to the rest of your workflow and lead to missed deadlines, lost revenue, stressed-out teams, and dissatisfied clients. 

Types of bottlenecks

The first step to solving your blockage issue is to identify what type of bottleneck you have. They fall under four categories

1. Performer-based bottleneck

This happens when a team member or whole team doesn’t meet a required performance level. Typically, it’s not actually a team member’s fault, rather the issue is rooted in a lack of resources or clarity. For example, this could be a manager who needs to review a high volume of documents before they can be shared with the client. 

2. Systems-based bottleneck

This bottleneck occurs when an outdated program slows down or stops workflow. This slowdown can be caused by difficult to navigate and slow to load work management software.

3. Short-term bottleneck

This bottleneck is caused by a temporary problem. For instance, this can occur when a team member takes several sick days and no one else has the skills to cover their projects. 

4. Long-term bottleneck

This bottleneck is one that regularly occurs, such as delayed monthly reporting because the process is too time-consuming.

Why do these pop up for in-house teams and agency partners?

All too often, bottlenecks hinder in-house teams and agency partners. There are several reasons this can happen:

  • Lack of training: By not having enough team members skilled in processes and programs, the business won’t be able to complete projects if a trained team member is unavailable. 
  • Frequent priority changes: When teams are forced to shift their focus, they lose time and slow down their work on several projects. 
  • Being understaffed: Understaffing can lead to teams taking on more work than they can handle, leading to overwork, burnout, and missed deadlines. 
  • Inaccurate time estimates: When too little time is estimated for projects, teams can end up taking too much work than can actually be completed on time. 

How to find bottlenecks

What’s a process manager to do? Before tackling anything, you need to find the root cause of the problem.

To find bottlenecks in your own processes, start by writing out the following: 

  1. First, map out your workflows and label strengths and weaknesses. This doesn’t need to be complicated—a simple spreadsheet with a list of each step of your process will suffice.
  2. Next, measure how much time each step takes.
  3. Finally, identify the inefficient parts of your process. 

From here, you should have a good idea of what in the workflow is taking up most of your team’s time. 

How can you correct different types of bottlenecks?

Now that you know where your bottleneck is, it’s time to correct it. If you’re facing a performer-based bottleneck issue, talk to your team and find out why they’re struggling to get their work done. The answer to alleviating this issue might be hiring additional help, delegating tasks to other team members, or establishing better communication within the team. A system-based bottleneck can be solved by investing in and upgrading to new software that streamlines workflows.

Key steps to avoid bottlenecks

To keep bottlenecks at bay and workflows in motion, keep these six tips in mind: 

  1. Build a strong, reliable, and flexible team that can tackle various projects. 
  2. Know which tasks to delegate so no one gets overwhelmed. 
  3. Use technology that can help streamline daily operations. 
  4. Analyze processes regularly and hold meetings to identify what processes aren’t working.
  5. Hire freelancers or an agency partner that can help fill capacity and capability gaps
  6. Empower employees to identify bottlenecks in their daily work since they are the ones most familiar with them.

Bottlenecks don’t need to be a detriment to your workflow. Identifying them can be a great opportunity to find areas of lasting improvement that propel productivity, increase revenue, and keep stakeholders happy.

Written by Kathryn Haro
Intermediate Content Specialist