Imagine you work in the Internet Service Provider industry (which you probably do), and your company is having difficulties fulfilling customers’ order timely.
Every time requests are made or deals are won, there are always lengthy delays fulfilling the orders. Customers complain and have to be managed on the deployment period, and the company even loses some opportunities as a result, and this invariably eats into profits.
What are you going to do?
After some investigation, you find out that the reason the orders are delayed is because of delays in different sections of the order fulfillment process; The Engineering units responsible are not properly briefed, Purchasing and Account unit are not advised on time, there is always a lot of back and forth with contractors resulting in more delays, customers are not updated thus they complain, etc.
So you ask….
Why are there back and forth with the contractors? It turns out that customers’ requirements are not properly captured or communicated to the deployment team. This causes a delay with approvals, which results in more delays before the requests is passed to the Purchasing unit who also delay in passing that request to the accounts units. So by drafting a customer requirement form and putting timelines within units, this challenge is minimized.
Sadly bottlenecks in some business processes are not easy to identify or fix.
What is a Bottleneck?
A bottleneck in a process occurs when input comes in faster than the next step can use it to create output. The term compares assets (information, materials, products, man-hours) with water. When water is poured out of a bottle, it has to pass through the bottle’s neck, or opening. The wider the bottle’s neck, the more water (input/assets) you can pour out. The smaller, or narrower, the bottle’s neck, the less you can pour out – and you end up with a back-up, or “bottleneck.”
There are two main types of bottlenecks:
- Short-term bottlenecks – These are caused by temporary problems. A good example is when key team members become ill or go on vacation. No one else is qualified to take over their projects, which causes a backlog in their work until they return.
- Long-term bottlenecks – An example would be when a company’s month-end reporting process is delayed every month, because one person has to complete a series of time-consuming tasks – and he can’t even start until he has the final month-end figures.
Identifying and fixing bottlenecks is highly important. They can cause a lot of problems in terms of lost revenue, dissatisfied customers, wasted time, poor-quality products or services, and high stress in team members.
How to Identify Bottlenecks
Start with yourself. Is there a routine or situation that regularly causes stress in your day? These frustrations can actually be a significant indicator that a bottleneck exists somewhere.
For example, imagine that you’re responsible for reviewing a report that another team member creates each week. Once you’re done, you give it to another team member, who has to post the report on your company’s intranet. Due to your workload, however, the report often sits on your desk for hours – so the next person down the line sometimes has to wait to post it on time. This causes a lot of stress for you as well as your colleague. In this scenario, you’re the bottleneck!
Here are some other signs of bottlenecks:
- Long wait times – For example, your work is delayed because you’re waiting for a product, a report, or more information. Or requests spend time waiting between steps of an order fulfillment process as we showcased earlier.
- Backlogged work – There’s too much work piled up at one end, and not enough at the other end.
- High stress levels.
Two tools are useful in helping to identify bottlenecks:
- Flow Charts: Use a flow chart to help you identify where bottlenecks are occurring. Flow charts break down a system by detailing every step in the process in an easy-to-follow diagrammatic flow. Once you map out a process, it’s much easier to see where there might be a problem. Sit down and identify each step that your process needs to function well.
- The Five Whys Technique: The Five Whys can also help you identify how to unblock your bottleneck. To start, identify the problem you want to address. Then, working backward, ask yourself why this problem is occurring. Keep asking yourself “Why?” at each step, until you reach the root cause.
Applying this to your work
Are there bottlenecks in any of your processes at work? Do you produce things that sit in a colleague’s inbox for hours or days before they’re processed? Do things sit in your inbox for days because you’re too busy? Do you often wait to receive materials, reports, or pieces of information from colleagues, and do these delay tasks that you need to complete? Or are you always late sending things to your colleagues?
For each bottleneck situation, identify who – or what – the bottleneck is. Is it you, or someone else, or even an automatic process?
Then determine if the process would flow better if inputs to the bottleneck step were reduced, or if efficiency were increased. If the problem is efficiency, how can you improve?
Drop a line below and share some bottlenecks you have identified.
Author: Morenike Ayeni
- On August 19, 2016
- 0 Comments