Strategies for managing bottlenecks
Once you know how to identify a bottleneck, fixing them as soon as possible is important.
Unfortunately, you can’t always resolve a bottleneck right away. Instead, you need general strategies that help you address problems, stay fluid in your processes, and form an ongoing business approach to deal with the unexpected.
You can find product strategy framework tools to help with bottleneck management. Take a look at the following strategies to learn how to fix a bottleneck,
1. Avoid leaving projects in idle
Idle time is a killer in every industry. Sometimes people are inactive. Sometimes tools are idle. Sometimes entire workstations or locations need to be more active. The point is, when you have something idle, it’s not producing, which can lead to bottlenecks.
Say you're a manufacturer, and your primary processing bottleneck occurs because you order packaging from a supplier before you can ship your products. You’re often waiting on the packaging.
Letting some of your manufacturing processes idle while you wait on the packaging makes sense. Otherwise, you’ll have various products you can’t ship.
Here’s the tricky part. If you idle too much, you might be able to catch up on packaging, but then there aren't enough items to keep up with order fulfillment.
As such, you don’t typically want to address a bottleneck process by slowing down productivity. You could reduce the number of orders you accept, but leaving part of your process idle to wait for another process may hurt your profits. Instead, you want to eliminate the bottleneck and catch up to the rest of the system.
Using this packaging example, you can source additional packaging suppliers so that together, they can keep up with your needs and allow you to focus on efficiency.
2. Increase your workforce
Your workforce is there to get work done, whether that involves fixing broken equipment, finding rapid solutions to sudden problems, making products, or carrying out services. If you have a large enough workforce, you can overcome your most common bottlenecks on a regular basis.
Now, most businesses have limited capital available to hire more people. Consider taking a strategic approach to expanding your workforce. Identify your bottlenecks, and figure out what personnel could best resolve them. Hire those positions first. Sometimes, a single extra person on the production schedule can make a difference.
3. Reduce strain on the bottleneck
We’re being generic so that this can apply across industries, but you have to identify the bottleneck if you’re going to resolve it. Once you know where the blockage occurs, you want to reduce the strain on it.
Let’s say that you provide in-home plumbing services. You find that your bottleneck occurs when you have too many orders for your plumbing team to get to in a day. How do you reduce strain on the bottleneck?
You can hire more plumbers. You can take fewer orders. Or, you can expand the expected time of service. Say customers can schedule a service online, and you have openings every 15 minutes. If you have a bottleneck, change those intervals to every 20 minutes. Doing so will lower the strain on your specific problem.
4. Keep an eye on WIPs
For those unfamiliar, WIP stands for “work in progress.” This is a way of defining and tracking the tasks involved in a business process (it’s most commonly used in manufacturing). If you closely monitor each WIP, you can see how your workflows function and when and where problems seem to occur.
You’re breaking your overall business model into individual processes that make workflows run smoothly. Then, you're watching each segment for issues, production inefficiency, or anything else that might contribute to bottlenecks. Once you see a problem, you can craft a solution that's unique to the situation.