How do you identify bottlenecks? Here are three approaches that can help

How to identify bottlenecks

Every once in a while, your organization will hit a snag with an internal workflow or process.

As a result, productivity may drop; employees may be overworked; customer satisfaction may decline; and tasks may pile up in a backlog that takes weeks or months to clear out, even after you’ve fixed your workflow.

In short: You’ve likely hit a bottleneck.

What, exactly, is a bottleneck? And how can you identify and resolve any? You can read on to learn the answers to each of these questions.

Related: What are data silos? And why do they emerge?

What is a bottleneck?

A bottleneck is a point of congestion within a workflow that occurs when the level of input received exceeds the volume that can be processed. As a result, resources are overstretched, follow-up actions are delayed, and the entire process either slows down or grinds to a halt.

Bottlenecks can either be short or long-term, depending on the capacity of the different stages within a workflow and the volume of input flowing through it.

  • Short-term bottlenecks tend to be temporary and only result when there’s an unanticipated spike in the workload being fed into a process.
  • Long-term bottlenecks tend to stretch out for longer periods of time and may reoccur consistently, owing to a flaw in the design of a process and a miscalculation of how much workload can be handled in a particular stage of the process flow.

How to identify bottlenecks

Whether you’re working at a startup or a Fortune 500 company with global operations, identifying and fixing bottlenecks can boost your operational efficiency and save you time and resources.

To that end, here are three approaches you can take to discover bottlenecks within your workflows:

Map and analyze your process flow

Bottlenecks are a sign of a deeper problem within a workflow’s design. As a result, the first step in identifying any bottleneck is to outline your processes and examine them at a high level. This involves laying out and analyzing the following for each stage of the process: the throughput it receives, the interactions between other stages within your process, lead times, and any existing backlogs.

Look for issues that bottlenecks tend to create 

Certain KPIs can reveal whether or not there’s a backlog. Try measuring the following to suss out whether one exists for a given workflow:

  • Wait times: When wait times start to exceed the expected range, it often signals that there’s a bottleneck.
  • Throughput: Measure how much throughput each stage of your workflow is designed to process relative to the volume of work it’s actually receiving. If any stage receives a workload that exceeds its processing capacity, there’s likely a bottleneck. 
  • Backlog volume: Backlogged work is often a telltale sign that a workflow stage is receiving more workload than its designed throughput, and as a result, productivity stays the same while a backlog piles up.

Interview your staff 

Bottlenecks often overburden certain staff while colleagues at other stages of a workflow have little or nothing to do. Knowing this, you can survey your employees and if you find that certain groups feel overworked while others feel underutilized, you likely have a bottleneck to deal with.

Related: How to use robotic process automation (RPA) software

What can you do to tackle bottlenecks?

Let’s circle back to our definition of a bottleneck for a moment: It’s a scenario where one or more stages of a workflow are receiving more input than they are designed to process. So, bottlenecks are essentially a process design flaw that can be fixed by improving your workflows.

Here are a few tactics you can leverage to balance your workflow’s capacity:

Extend your workflow’s operation timeline

Extending your workflow’s timeline can help you keep a workflow running continuously.

Let’s say your accounting department starts to process paychecks during the last week of the month. Over time, your department discovers that they never make payroll on time and a few dozen employees get paid a few days behind schedule.

Instead of adding a few more staff to your accounting department, you could work on processing payroll a week earlier and, as a result, you’ll be able to cut back on late paychecks.

Reassign tasks to colleagues who have bandwidth

Bottlenecks can easily be fixed by reassigning tasks from the bottlenecked stage until you can increase its capacity.

For instance, if you find that some of your staff are overworked while an adjacent department consistently has enough bandwidth to take on more tasks, you can enlist colleagues in the adjacent department to help tackle the tasks at the bottlenecked stage (and in doing so, eliminate the bottleneck).

Automate your workflows 

If manual work is prevalent in your workflows, it shouldn’t be surprising that you run into bottlenecks frequently. After all, you can only write so many lines of code, review so many documents, and enter data into so many apps every day.

At some point, you’ll have more tasks than your assigned staff can handle, and when that happens, everything seizes up.

Automating a workflow eliminates much of the manual work involved in a process. Moreover, it allows you to complete a series of tasks quickly, successfully, and with little effort.

This means that automated workflows replace or reduce human input to the bare minimum at critical stages of your internal processes, allowing you to boost throughput with fewer resources.

Eliminate bottlenecks with Workato’s Enterprise Automation Platform

Using Workato’s low-code/no-code Enterprise Automation Platform, you can:

  • Leverage 1,000+ pre-built integrations and hundreds of thousands of automation templates (“recipes”) to launch integrations and automations quickly and with little customization
  • Enlist lines of business and IT in both integration and automation-building
  • Communicate with your tech stack from your business communication platform (e.g. Slack, Microsoft Teams) using customizable bots
Learn how Workato can transform your workflows and remove bottlenecks by scheduling a demo with an automation expert.