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Bottleneck Analysis Explained - Steps, Benefits & Tools

Lari Numminen

September 21, 2023

As businesses grow, they face numerous challenges that affect their operational efficiency and productivity. One of the significant challenges is identifying and managing bottlenecks within production or service workflows and processes.

In this article we dive into what bottleneck analysis is, its benefits, key steps for bottleneck analysis, and how it can help businesses improve their processes and systems.

What is a bottleneck in business?

Bottlenecks are the slowest or most restrictive parts of a system, process, or workflow that impede productivity, hinder growth, and negatively impact the bottom line.

A simple example of a bottleneck is a senior manager who is slow in a task, like approving an invoice. While it only takes the manager a few seconds to review and approve invoices, delaying the task can lead to the entire accounts payable or accounts receivable function within a business organization slowing down, much like the neck of a bottle slows down the flow of liquids.

what is bottleneck analysis in business

Why should you conduct bottleneck analysis?

Bottleneck analysis is a management tool used to identify constraints and inefficiencies in a system or process that limit its capacity and productivity. It involves identifying and prioritizing the steps that take the most time, resources, or effort and analyzing them to identify the root causes of the inefficiencies. This analysis helps to pinpoint the areas for process optimization.

Benefits of Bottleneck Analysis

Bottleneck analysis is a key aspect of process analysis. It offers numerous benefits to businesses operations, including:

- Improve efficiency. By identifying the bottleneck areas in a system or process, businesses can focus their efforts and resources on those areas that need improvement, leading to more efficient and effective operations.

- Increase productivity. Addressing bottlenecks can lead to increased productivity, as the most time-consuming or resource-intensive parts of the process are optimized or eliminated altogether.

- Reduce costs. By streamlining processes and optimizing workflows, businesses can reduce their costs and improve their bottom line.

- Improve quality. Bottleneck analysis can help identify areas where quality may be compromised, allowing businesses to take corrective actions to improve the quality of their products or services.

How to conduct bottleneck analysis

In a business organization bottleneck analysis can be conducted by a business analyst or operational excellence consultant. There are many frameworks for bottleneck analysis inspired by lean or Six Sigma methodologies. In the simplest level, a bottleneck analysis typically involves the following steps:

Step 1: Identify the Process or System

Identify the process or system that needs analysis, such as a manufacturing process, supply chain, or customer service process.

Step 2: Map the Process

Map out the process or system, identifying each step and the resources required for each step.

Step 3: Identify the Bottleneck

Identify the slowest or most restrictive step in the process, the one that takes the most time or requires the most resources.

Step 4: Analyze the Bottleneck

Analyze the bottleneck to identify the root cause of the inefficiencies. This may involve gathering data, conducting interviews, or using other analysis tools.

Step 5: Develop and Implement Solutions

Develop solutions to address the root causes of the bottleneck and implement them to improve the process or system.

Step 6: Continuously monitor and improve

Bottleneck analysis isn't a one-off task. Businesses should monitor operations constantly to prevent future bottlenecks.

Common mistakes to avoid during bottleneck analysis

Bottleneck analysis is not always easy to get right, as there are many easy mistakes to make.

Some of the most common challenges include:

  • Ignoring small bottlenecks. One common mistake is overlooking smaller, less obvious bottlenecks. While they may seem insignificant, these small bottlenecks can accumulate and lead to substantial delays and inefficiencies in the overall process.
  • Not considering external factors. Another mistake is not considering external factors and focusing only on internal processes. External factors like supply chain issues or market demand can also be significant contributors to bottlenecks.
  • Overlooking human factors. Failing to consider human factors such as skills, morale, and staffing levels is also common. Workforce-related bottlenecks can be as impactful as process-related ones and addressing them can yield significant improvements.
  • Lack of comprehensive data analysis. Bottleneck analysis often falls short due to inadequate or incorrect data. Utilizing incomplete or outdated data can lead to incorrect identification of bottlenecks and subsequently to inappropriate solutions.
  • Neglecting variability. Ignoring variability in processing times and demand is another common mistake. Variability can lead to fluctuations and inconsistency in workflow, causing unexpected bottlenecks.

Bottleneck analysis tools and software

Today there are many software solutions automating the analysis and identification of operational bottlenecks. These may include:

  • Process discovery software. These tools allow you to discover and diagnose bottlenecks in tasks, systems and workflows.
  • Process mining software. Typically process mining involves capturing event logs from enterprise resource systems to analyze business processes.
  • Task mining software. Task mining utilizes task capture technology to analyze user interactions and activities within business applications.
  • Process intelligence software. Process intelligence is an umbrella term to describe different forms of analysis tools used including both process and task mining tools.

Bottleneck analysis is a valuable tool that can help businesses identify inefficiencies, optimize processes, and improve productivity and profitability. By focusing on the bottleneck areas in a system or process, businesses can improve efficiency, reduce costs, and improve the quality of their products or services.

Looking for a quick and easy way to identify bottlenecks in processes? Read the Object-Centric Task Mining whitepaper.

Bottleneck analysis FAQ

What is a bottleneck in business operations?

A bottleneck in business operations refers to a point in a process or workflow where the limited capacity or inefficiency of a particular step or resource hinders the overall performance and throughput of the system. Bottlenecks can lead to delays, increased costs, and reduced productivity, as the constrained capacity at the bottleneck prevents other parts of the process from functioning at their optimal efficiency.

What is an example of a bottleneck process?

An example of a bottleneck process could be a manufacturing assembly line where one specific workstation takes significantly longer to complete its tasks than the other workstations. As a result, the slower workstation causes a build-up of work-in-progress items waiting to be processed, while other workstations remain idle, waiting for the bottleneck to be resolved. This imbalance in processing times leads to reduced throughput, inefficiencies, and potential delays in the overall production process.

What causes a bottleneck in processes?

A bottleneck in processes can be caused by various factors, such as limited capacity, inadequate resources, poor process design, or a lack of skilled personnel. For example, a bottleneck may occur if a machine in a production line has a lower processing capacity than the machines before and after it, or if there is a shortage of skilled workers to perform a specific task. Additionally, bottlenecks can be caused by external factors, such as supply chain disruptions or fluctuations in customer demand.

How can you reduce bottlenecks?

To reduce bottlenecks, organizations should first identify the root causes of the bottleneck by analyzing their processes and gathering relevant data. Once the bottleneck has been identified, potential solutions can be implemented, such as increasing capacity, redistributing workload, automating tasks, or providing additional resources or training. Continuous monitoring and process improvement efforts can help prevent the recurrence of bottlenecks and ensure that the process remains efficient and optimized. It is also essential to consider the entire process when addressing bottlenecks, as focusing solely on the bottleneck area without considering the impact on other parts of the process can lead to unintended consequences or new bottlenecks.

Written by

Lari Numminen

Chief Marketing Fellow