Hello, this is Hayashi from the Marketing Department.
Imagine you’re driving a car and you get stuck in traffic; you get annoyed, don’t you?
When you get stuck in a traffic jam, the previously smooth flow of cars is slowed down and the time required to reach your destination increases rapidly.
The main cause of traffic congestion is the sudden narrowing of a wide road due to accidents or construction. Traffic that was flowing smoothly on a three-lane road is suddenly squeezed into a single lane, causing the road to become clogged.
Bottlenecks in business processes are just this.
No matter how you try to improve operations, as long as there are bottlenecks in the business process, operations will remain stuck there, and it will be difficult to improve efficiency and productivity.
This section will explain how to identify these bottlenecks and give you some ideas on how to fix them.
What is a Bottleneck?
When the term “bottleneck” is used in business processes, it refers to the point at which operations become stagnant.
Even if other processes are flowing smoothly, when you come to that process, the business is clogged up, and that is the bottleneck. This is easy to understand if you think about the narrow neck of a bottle, from which the word “bottleneck” comes, or a road that goes from three lanes to one all of a sudden.
Major Causes of Bottlenecks
The following three factors are the main causes of bottlenecks in business processes.
- Insufficient processing capacity
- Personnel-intensive operations
- Inefficient business processes
The first is a case of insufficient personnel or machine throughput for the relevant operations. This is a typical bottleneck, in which even if other processes are processing at a rapid pace, the subsequent process that receives the inflow cannot keep up with the processing, and the work becomes backlogged at that point.
The second is a case in which the work is dependent on a specific person, such as when only a particular staff member can do this task. As mentioned in the previous blog, if the work is assigned to a specific person, the work will become stagnant if the person in charge of that work takes a leave of absence or quits the company. This leads to bottlenecks.
The third is a case in which the business process itself is inefficient, such as when paper documents are circulated. For example, a business process that requires waiting for a signature from a supervisor who makes frequent business trips, or a sales representative who is on the road a lot is inefficient, isn’t it? In addition, if a process cannot proceed to the next step unless the person in the previous step handles it, there is a high possibility that the business process will stagnate.
In many cases, the above three factors are not independent of each other, but are intertwined. For example, the combination of factors 1 and 2 may be the cause of the limited number of employees who can perform a particular task due to the high degree of specialization of the task. In addition, inefficient business processes (3) are often affected by the division of work among different employees.
Based on these factors, in the next section I would like to describe an example of a bottleneck that I have actually experienced.
A Bottleneck I Experienced
More than 15 years ago, I was working in the advertising department of a company.
At the time, I was in charge of advertising production for magazines, newspapers, and other media, and one day I was asked to provide support to a team that was producing a catalog. From my point of view, the catalog production team was always busy, with many designers and writers working late into the night before the deadline. However, the reason for this was not because of the large amount of work assigned to each of us.
One day, I went to show the product copy I had written for the catalog to the team leader. The leader was Mr. K; He was the one who was supposed to check all the text and designs for the catalog. I looked over and saw that four or five writers and designers had already formed a queue in front of Mr. K’s desk. They were waiting for their turn to be checked by Mr. K.
I reluctantly got to the end of the line, thinking to myself, “This isn’t a ramen shop…”. However, the line did not move forward at all. This was because Mr. K was checking the manuscript and having a verbal discussion with the person in charge. So it was about an hour later when I was finally checked by Mr. K. The waiting time was comparable to that of a ramen restaurant with a long line.
One day however, I noticed that the line had disappeared from in front of Mr. K’s desk. Wondering what was going on, I went to see him, and Mr. K told me
“Oh, the system has changed. Write your name there.”
He handed me a receptionist’s list on a clipboard.
I thought to myself, “This isn’t a family restaurant…” and filled in my name on the reception list. Looking at the list, I saw that a number of designers and writers names were already written on it. Mr. K seemed to take even more time for the meeting now that the line in front of me was gone, and my name was not called even after an hour had passed. The word “overtime” flashed through my mind, but I had no choice but to wait.
Is there a solution?
In the example of the catalog team, you can see that the work done by the designers and writers flowed into the bottleneck of the checking process by Mr. K, which caused the work to stagnate there.
Incidentally, it was much later on that this catalog team improved the unusually time-consuming checking process by increasing the number of people in charge of checking to two.
In the case of this team, the problem was that the processing capacity was not keeping up with the influx of tasks, so the basic solution was to increase the number of staff in charge and improve processing capacity. Thus, the catalog team’s overtime work has become better than before. Although it may be a little too late to realize this…
What are the Golden Rules for Resolving Bottlenecks?
Now, in fact, there is an ironclad rule for solving bottlenecks.
- Improving anything other than the bottleneck is ineffective
In the case of the catalog team mentioned above for example, even if the designer increases the daily production from “5” to “10” by streamlining his work, if Mr. K, who checks it, can only process “3” per day, the daily production will end up being “3”. In other words, no matter how much the others increase their production, it will be blocked at Mr. K. Therefore, the only way to increase the overall production is to do something about Mr. K’s process.
Therefore, the next section describes specific methods to deal with bottlenecks.
Solving Bottlenecks in Your Workflow
In order to deal with bottlenecks, we must first discover them.
Therefore, it is necessary to depict the business process in a diagram.
From Modeling Operations to Finding Bottlenecks
By the way, we have published a comic titled “Takeo-kun’s Business Flow Improvement Story” as a learning resource. In this manga, Takeo-kun, the main character, struggles to improve the current situation of his company, which is riddled with problems.
In the story, Takeo-kun, who embarks on business improvement, first conducts business modeling (“visualization”).
Takeo-kun’s use of BPMN (*) notation to create the diagram clearly visualized the workflow, which had been unclear until then. Furthermore, Takeo-kun discovered bottlenecks, which are problems in the business, by examining the workflow diagram he created.
* To learn more about BPMN and how to draw business flow diagrams, please click here.
Parallel Processing Improves Bottlenecks
The bottleneck in Takeo’s company was his grandfather, a comb maker. His grandpa is a skilled craftsman, but he cannot keep up with the busy season, and there are frequent delays in the production process. Therefore, Takeo introduced parallel processing to the business flow as shown in the diagram below so that Grandpa can start the process earlier than before.
As in the previous example, the introduction of parallel processing will have a big impact if the business processes are linear and can only be done one after the other.
For example, taking the product planning work process as an example, the figure below shows a flow of evaluations conducted in turn by three teams: Production, System Evaluation, and Logistics.
However, in this case, the next team cannot start evaluation until the evaluation by the previous team is finished, and it takes a long time from planning to approval.
Therefore, the workflow below incorporates parallel processing.
In this flow, when a product plan is proposed the evaluation task is sent to the three teams at the same time. This eliminates waiting for the previous team’s evaluation and shortens the lead time from product planning to approval. This kind of parallelization is also effective for applications and approvals that involve multiple persons in charge, which tend to be delayed by waiting for the supervisor’s stamp, as mentioned above.
※ For a detailed blog on parallel processing of work, click here
Questetra BPM Suite to Support Bottleneck Improvement
We have been rushing through examples of bottlenecks and remedial measures, but Questetra BPM Suite is software that provides powerful support for finding and eliminating bottlenecks.
For example, with Questetra BPM Suite, you can easily create a workflow diagram by placing icons on the computer screen. Since work proceeds automatically according to the created workflow diagram, there is no need to pass the work to the next person. This alone will drastically cut down the time required for paper-based applications, approvals, and circular requests for approval.
In reality, it is time-consuming to diagram business processes and share changed business processes within a team. But Questetra BPM Suite makes it easy to change and share business processes once bottlenecks have been found.
There are many examples of how paperless processes have improved bottlenecks and made operations more efficient. In addition, Questetra BPM Suite stores data such as the time taken to process a task and the lead time of the entire business process, making it easy to verify the effects of business process improvement.
Also, Questetra BPM Suite is a cloud-based tool, so as long as you have an Internet connection, you can access the same system as you do when you are in the office. This will greatly reduce bottlenecks caused by waiting for stamps and approvals, as you can process work while traveling or on the move.
If you are feeling backlogged and inefficient in your day-to-day business, why not start by discovering the bottlenecks in your business processes with Questetra BPM Suite? You can also try it for free.
▼ You can also apply for a free trial here ▼