Does it seem as if, no matter how many improvements you make to your project management strategy, there’s always something holding your agency back?You may have a process bottleneck - a stage in your project process that receives more assignments than it can handle at its maximum throughput capacity. Recognizing the signs, understanding the causes, and implementing solutions to a process bottleneck can help your organization improve project timelines and resource utilization rates.
How to Find Process Bottlenecks
One of the biggest challenges of bottlenecks is that their presence can often go unnoticed.
- Analyze Your Throughput - Your throughput is the measurement of how fast a project moves through your organization and reaches completion. Measuring your throughput gives you an understanding of cycle time, which will give you an initial understanding of whether a bottleneck exists in your agency.
- Visualize Your Project Workflow - Use a Gantt chart or a similar project management system that lays out your entire task-by-task project timeline. Being able to visualize the entire workflow will help you understand which steps may be causing complications or delays.
- Measure Your Backlogs - It’s normal for every agency to have some backlog of pending projects and associated tasks. Review your current backlog and where there may be more than usual to highlight which teams are overloaded.
The Causes of Process Bottleneck
Bottlenecks can have a wide variety of reasons, but the following are some of the most common.
- Task-Resource Imbalance - The simplest cause of bottlenecks is that there are simply more tasks than resources in a specific department can handle. As a result, projects are consistently slowed down at this phase because the associated team cannot efficiently handle the workload.
- Frequent Priority Changes - A team can lose valuable time and slow down multiple projects at once when their tasks frequently change priority, forcing them to shift focus before completing a task. This can easily become a bottleneck despite having enough resources.
- Inaccurate Time Estimates - Incorrectly estimating how long each task, or a project in general, should take to complete can cause your agency to take on too much work for its maximum throughput. The longer it takes to improve the accuracy of estimates, the more work you will take on, creating a larger bottleneck.
The Solutions to Process Bottleneck
Once you have identified bottlenecks and potential causes, it’s time to implement solutions. One or more of the following courses of action can help reduce, or possibly eliminate, process bottlenecks.
- Reduce Major Stressors - The effects of a bottleneck increase when greater stress is placed on it. Identify what is exacerbating the bottleneck, such as constant new project requests, poor workflow management, and conflicting assignments, and actively work to reduce these stressors.
- Manage Work in Progress Limits - Your Work in Progress Limit is the amount of tasks that a single team can work on at any given moment. Setting these at the right level can help prevent unnecessary priority changes and stop your team members from being overwhelmed, which increases bottleneck effects.
- Take on New Resources - If the major cause of the bottleneck is a resource-project imbalance, and you expect project levels to either stay consistent or increase, consider creating a network of contractors to fill gaps. Access to the right resources with the right skills at the right time can alleviate this bottleneck.
Become a More Productive Agency
Process bottlenecks are just one challenge that may be holding you back. Find out how to make the most of your opportunities with our helpful ebook, “The Top 4 Productivity Obstacles Every Agency Must Overcome.”