Few things are more frustrating for a business owner than internal bottlenecks that stifle your team’s ability to work efficiently. But to overcome these chokepoints, you’ll need a proactive approach.
What is an Internal Workflow Bottleneck?
Before we really dig in and identify some specific ways to address costly and inefficient bottlenecks in your business, let’s make sure we have a clear understanding of what we’re discussing.
An internal workflow bottleneck can be described as any part of a process where the overall capacity or efficiency is being slowed down by an internal factor.
Bottlenecks can be caused by any number of underlying issues and typically become worse over time. When ignored, they may lead to supply overstock, underproduction, frustrated employees, slow lead times, poor customer service, missed deadlines, longer lines, and/or quality issues.
Most bottlenecks can be labeled as one of two types:
- Short-term bottlenecks. These are usually caused by temporary problems – and they’re typically pretty easy to identify. For example, you might not have anyone to handle support tickets if your three-person team happens to all be out sick at the same time. The only solution is to have someone take over. Until then, the backlog will continue.
- Long-term bottlenecks. These are more common. They result from ongoing issues and are more difficult to identify and assess. For example, a bottleneck could occur when a small part on one of your production machines breaks. It slows down production by 10 percent, but nobody can pinpoint the issue. The solution is to fix the part, but it takes time to notice the decrease in production, find the problem, and then address the problem.
Both types of bottlenecks create problems for your business, but it’s helpful to know what you’re dealing with on the front end. This little bit of added context will help you zero in on the correct solution.
How Do You Solve Bottlenecks?
Bottlenecks are easy to spot, but can be quite difficult to eliminate. The more you train your team to think creatively and proactively about bottlenecks, the more likely that you’ll successfully alleviate these chokepoints before they become major problems. Here are a few suggestions:
Poor communication hurts efficiency, limits productivity, and causes/worsens internal workflow bottlenecks. The problem is that most businesses are still reliant on inefficient means of communicating, which leads to additional slowdowns and issues.
Instead of relying on email, which is basically the digital equivalent of snail mail, try revamping your approach to account for something like SMS. Research shows that 90 percent of texts are read within 15 minutes (with the average response time around 90 seconds). Compare that to email, which has open rates closer to the 15 to 20 percent range!
Try Process Mapping
If you’ve never tried process mapping, you should certainly give it a shot. This is a simple exercise where you visualize the entire workflow of a process using a flowchart or diagram. It helps you identify key points in the process and possible choke points where the bottleneck is most likely occurring. Then, based on this information, you can go in and carefully analyze each potential problem area to see if something is holding you back.
Standardization is a big key to efficiency. If you’re serious about maximizing efficiency in your processes – which is paramount to avoiding and overcoming bottlenecks – you need as many standard processes as possible. (And they need to be documented in the form of Standard Operating Procedures, or SOPs, so that you can easily direct employees in the appropriate direction when an issue occurs.)
Hold Monthly Bottleneck Meetings
Many long-term bottlenecks emerge because there’s no clear or obvious platform for dialoguing about the underlying issue. Avoid this problem by holding monthly bottleneck meetings where employees are expected to come with two or three different issues they’re experiencing and solutions for solving these issues. Your team then gets the chance to brainstorm together and proactively implement corrective measures.
Restoring Efficiency in Your Business
Optimum efficiency is something every business owner should aim for weekly, monthly, and quarterly. Whether you’re producing physical products in a B2C industry or selling a B2B service to enterprise organizations, your efficiency will ultimately determine your company’s upper and lower “success” parameters.
Start with your biggest bottlenecks and proceed from there.