If you are a project manager or anyone shepherding a project through a company workflow, a bottleneck can be a major pain in the neck. If one occurs at a critical time in your project’s timeline, it can be even worse than a pain: It can derail the entire project, threatening to erase hours of work, bottom lines, and maybe even your career.

While a single bottleneck is certainly a problem, the situation can be much different if you are continually encountering bottlenecks in your work. This can signal that your workflows, policies, or even personnel are not well suited to your work — and that something needs to change, and quickly.

What is a bottleneck

In the world of project management, a bottleneck is any work stage that slows down, stops, or stalls downstream tasks. In project management, a bottleneck slows or stops your project and effects projects around it as your team is forced to divert resources to solve it.

Think about a common cause of traffic — three lanes of a freeway narrowed to one for an accident. That’s a bottleneck, and it’s the same concept as a bottleneck in your work — multiple processes are squeezed together so in effect they all come to a halt.

What effect can bottlenecks have?

In project management, a bottleneck can impact your company in multiple ways, including:

Bottlenecks: The Silent Efficiency Killer

While the impacts of bottlenecks are clear, and can be felt in conference rooms and budgets, actually spotting them can be surprising difficult if you do not have clear visibility into your workflows. Without a good project management tool, bottlenecks may quietly appear as simple missed deadlines, the occasional upset customer, or the quiet loss of future contracts.

How to identify bottlenecks

Luckily, project managers today have a wealth of sophisticated tools they can use to look into the guts of a project’s workflow and spot bottlenecks before they derail projects. With project management software like ProWorkflow, project managers have clear visual sightlines around employees, projects, budgets, and more. Now, spotting a workflow bottleneck is as simple as opening your dashboard and viewing your projects and what stages they are in. Visual tools like status updates can show you where projects are stalling — maybe a key supply is unavailable, a position is vacant, an approval has not been granted, or critical documents have yet to be signed.

The two types of bottlenecks

In general, we can say there are two types of bottlenecks: Those caused by systems and those caused by people.

Systems-based bottlenecks are caused by outdated software, inefficient machines, poor infrastructure, and other similar challengers. Perhaps you have a supply shortage, the mail delivery is too slow, or you are using machines that simply can’t match the output and quality you desire.

People-based bottlenecks are typically performance related: You either don’t have the right person in place to do a specific job, or you don’t have enough people to get the job done. You may be short staffed, your employee may be out sick all the time, or your worker may simply not have the skills needed to get the job done.

Analyze your bottlenecks to learn from them

While annoying and perhaps even posing an existential threat to your business, observing bottlenecks in real time can be insightful and impart key intelligence.

1. Investigate the processes leading up to the bottleneck. Who determines the completion of that step, and what factors are at play?

2. Identify the bottlenecks and what caused them. Visual tools like Gantt charts can easily identify where work is piling up, allowing you to investigate to uncover possible causes.

3. Locate and identify solutions. Tackle your bottlenecks one by one, soliciting input from those team members closest to the bottleneck.

4. Implement a solution and measure success. With the issue and its cause identified, you can put an action plan into place that adapts your workflow to mitigate the bottleneck and aim for future success.

Who is responsible for identifying bottlenecks?

Ultimately, it is up to the project manager to identify and solve bottlenecks, but the project management software tools, such as the solutions offered by ProWorkflow, will allow all stakeholders to identify bottlenecks and suggest individual solutions.

ProWorkflow can help you identify bottlenecks

ProWorkflow is a sophisticated project management tool that gives project managers full visibility into workflows and allows them to manage remote teams and complex tasks. ProWorkflow is also packed with the tools you need to simplify your work, including flexible task types, custom workflow categories, easy contact management, comprehensive reporting, a built-in invoice and quotes manager, and inline communication tools. Contact ProWorkflow today for a free demo.