What Is a Bottleneck in Project Management?

Dealing with bottlenecks can be a nightmare for any project manager. It's even worse when they occur close to the project deadline when there’s limited time to avoid delivery delay or project failure. 

Do you face recurring bottlenecks as a project manager? It may be a sign that you need to improve your project plans and workflow, communicate better with your team, and increase operational efficiency within your organization.

What are bottlenecks?

A bottleneck is any work stage within a project that stalls and holds up subsequent tasks and dependencies. Bottlenecks in project management reduce the pace and capacity of the project or workflow.

The term "bottleneck" comes from an actual bottleneck's shape: narrower than the rest of the bottle to control the amount of liquid that flows out. Similarly, bottlenecks in projects happen when a workflow is restricted at a particular stage due to limited capacity.

What harm can bottlenecks ultimately cause?

Bottlenecks in projects interrupt the flow of work and hinder progress. They also cause:

  • Reduced efficiency
  • Backlogged work
  • Long wait times
  • High stress levels 
  • Reduced team morale 
  • Dissatisfied clients
  • Loss of revenue
  • Productive time wasted

How to identify bottlenecks

Identifying the bottleneck is the first step to getting your project moving again. To achieve this, you will conduct a careful bottleneck analysis to diagnose the problem. 

If you incorrectly identify issues as bottlenecks, you may introduce new problems into your project. Keep in mind that there are two types of bottlenecks to watch out for:

  1. Systems-based bottlenecks 
  2. Performer-based bottlenecks 

Systems-based bottlenecks are caused by old, slow, or obsolete systems, software, machines, applications, and infrastructure. To identify systems-based bottlenecks, you must carefully review your project logs. 

Performer-based bottlenecks are created by the limited performance of individuals or teams within the project. If a bottleneck is caused by too many demands on a team or team member, it's a performer-based bottleneck. 

It's important to note that performer-based bottlenecks do not necessarily mean your employees or teams are not working hard enough. Sometimes, performer-based bottlenecks signify that your team is stretched too thin.

How do you do a bottleneck analysis?

Conducting a successful bottleneck analysis requires that you take a close look at each step in your project plan or workflow to identify where the work piles up. To achieve this, you should:

1. Map and analyze your processes

Bottleneck analysis begins with mapping your processes and entails studying them closely to analyze progress and performance. Mapping your processes helps to improve efficiency and reveal weaknesses in your project. When you map your process, you can clarify: 

  • How each work stage leads up to the final deliverable
  • Who is responsible for each task in the project 
  • The factors that determine the successful completion of a task or work stage
  • What determines the success of the entire project

2. Identify the bottlenecks and their causes

Once you've mapped your processes and their steps, it's time to note the bottlenecks. Using visual bottleneck analysis tools like Gantt charts and Kanban boards, you can easily detect where work requests pile up and drill deeper to identify the possible causes. It is helpful to make this an interactive process with your employees and team members. Input from the people working on the project will help you understand the real reasons for the bottlenecks. You’ll also be able to work out if they are systems- or performer-based bottlenecks. 

3. Work out solutions

After identifying the bottlenecks and their causes, you can tackle each one. You can also involve your team members at this stage to develop the right solutions for the bottlenecks. Perhaps your desired resources have been coming in way over budget, so it may be worth your while to research 'what is a project resource plan', and incorporate this idea into your next project.

4. Implement solutions and evaluate performance

It’s now time to implement these solutions in your project workflows. Changes in your project processes may create new roadblocks and redundancies. You should continuously monitor and evaluate project flow and progress. Conducting follow-on bottleneck analysis gives you more data to improve your project planning and team effectiveness. 

Who should watch out for bottlenecks?

To succeed, project managers must watch out for bottlenecks. They should also encourage their team members to speak up when they hit roadblocks. This way, the entire team is in the loop throughout the project’s duration, and bottlenecks are dealt with before they become devastating problems. 

Why a bottleneck analysis matters in operations management

Bottlenecks cause lost time and resources. They also increase costs and make forecasting output difficult. If your organization is in a situation where demand for your product or service exceeds your ability to deliver, you’ll want to find ways to increase your capacity to produce.

Efficient bottleneck analysis is crucial in operations management. A project manager should regularly evaluate workflows, team performance, and existing systems to maintain productivity and profitability. 

How Wrike can help identify and overcome bottlenecks

Wrike's collaborative workspace for project and resource capacity management is an excellent bottleneck analysis tool for modern companies of all sizes. Wrike helps project managers identify and tackle bottlenecks with visual tools like Gantt charts and Kanban boards that quickly show where work requests stack up in a project.

Wrike also allows project managers and team members to set reminders and receive notifications when a task is overdue. Are you ready to optimize your operations and improve efficiency and visibility to avoid bottlenecks in your projects? Get started with a two-week free Wrike trial today.

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