Workflow has been designed to help companies boost their productivity and improve business processes. But when things fail to go as planned, it is time for project managers and business owners to start figuring out what sets them back.
Imagine having a project that is almost ready, but depends on one single person or department to finally be launched into the world. So, you are waiting for them to finish up the work, but they are also struggling with a backlog of tasks awaiting completion. This can make your project fall behind schedule and delay your launching day. This is also what people refer to as a workflow bottleneck.
In this article, we will be taking a look at what workflow bottlenecks are, why they happen, and what you can do to fix them.
What Is A Workflow Bottleneck?
Usually, workflow bottlenecks happen when demand is higher than the production capacity. The reason for this can be one (or more) of many, including outdated equipment, inefficient employees, or limited resources. When they happen, bottlenecks can really set back business processes and, if they happen repeatedly, they can start affecting production time, good communication amongst employees, as well as working hours.
There are two types of bottlenecks that can cause disruption:
- Short-term bottlenecks: these issues are caused by temporary problems and usually have a much easier fix. For example, when a key employee goes on vacation or becomes ill, and no one else can take over their work. This causes a blockage that will be solved only when they return.
- Long-term bottlenecks: these are issues that continue to happen inside a company, yet they are not being fixed. Some examples would be the month-end report being delayed every time, financial audits not being ready in time, payrolls not being processed on their due date, etc.
Unfortunately, most of the time, bottlenecks are spotted after they already started causing blockages in the workflow. And, when they are left unsolved, such issues can lead to dissatisfied clients, loss of revenue, time wasted, as well as stress amongst employees. Identifying them and, most importantly, fixing them the moment they are being discovered will help boost productivity and improve the company as a whole.
How Do You Know You Have A Workflow Bottleneck?
Sometimes, spotting bottlenecks is easy, especially when you have to deal with repetitive issues, such as a piece of machinery constantly getting broken and setting production back. Other times, especially when the project needs to go through a number of hands before it becomes ready for launch, spotting the issue may be a bit more challenging.
Usually, once you suspect you might be dealing with a workflow bottleneck, you need to look at two key elements: systems and performers.
By system, I mean any kind of technology, program or software that is related to the task, such as machinery, computers, internet connection or applications.
To spot these issues, you need to start looking through internal data, as well as logs, and see if there is any process left incomplete. If you see the process is still awaiting confirmation or sign-off from a person, then you are dealing with a performer-based bottleneck, which we will be discussing in a bit. But if the process is being delayed due to the system being too slow, or an error that went unnoticed, then you are dealing with a system-based bottleneck. Usually, employees will signal such issues, so it may be worth taking their complaints into consideration, to avoid things like this happening in the future.
The easiest way to spot a performer-based bottleneck is to look at the time it takes for a task to be completed. If a task should take a certain amount of time to be done, but you see this time is usually exceeded, that is a sign you may be dealing with a performer issue.
Keep in mind that performer-based issues don’t always happen because employees are not doing their best to solve issues in a timely manner, but because sometimes they may simply be overwhelmed. If you have one employee performing a certain task, but you start observing it takes longer and longer for things to be done, it may be time to consider hiring more workforce or automating some of the work. Implementing new methodologies, such as Lean Six Sigma, can also help. You can find Green Belt training on Lean Six Sigma online, which will help improve efficiency and eliminate wastage.
Solving Workflow Bottlenecks
As you see, there can be a number of reasons why workflow bottlenecks happen. The first thing you need to do, in order to identify bottlenecks and start finding solutions is to create a detailed map for every business process there is. The map should also include the duration of the process. If you see a certain task is taking longer than expected, then there is a high chance you are confronting an issue.
Speaking with employees will also give you a much better perspective on the issue. Maybe they are facing difficulties with tasks that can be automated, or you simply need to hire a few more people for the job.
A proper evaluation of your tools can also help discover if your current toolset is enough to satisfy the company’s needs, or if the tools are outdated and need a complete replacement. Maybe employees require a bit more training to learn how to handle processes better, or how to manage certain situations.
Once you identify your issues, it’s time to start working on documenting the processes. Sometimes, standardization is key, and certain processes will only work if everyone follows them. But if employees don’t know what the guidelines are, they can’t adhere to them. Make sure that everything comes with a “user manual” that employees can turn to when they face certain issues. This will help everyone know exactly what they need to do, and how much it should take for it to be ready.
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