Last Updated: Apr 16, 2021

So you’ve got customer service requests coming in, but they’re piling up and there’s no way you’re getting through them all today. Or maybe you have a team working around the clock, trying to bring your new products to market.

But despite everyone’s best efforts, that product-to-market time is going to take much longer than expected. Or maybe there are important decisions that need to be made, but they keep getting put off again and again due to indecisiveness or fear.

These scenarios (and many others) are a familiar story for most of us. They all represent a bottleneck in your systems or processes: something that happens to every business. (If you feel that you don’t have any bottlenecks in your company, then you’re either a genius, or kidding yourself!)

The good news though, is that bottlenecks, while difficult to spot, can be addressed. And by addressing them, you can often free up your company to grow or increase your revenue. Sometimes, you can even notice these results right away.

Identifying and eliminating bottlenecks in your business is important, since it highlights areas where you can expand, improve, and grow. Identifying these bottlenecks is a crucial part of your business’ long-term success and growth. (Even Amazon’s success, in part, can be attributed to Jeff Bezos’ ability to spot and solve bottlenecks).

Bottlenecks can be short lived, one-time events, or long-term, chronically recurring issues. Since it’s the recurring, ongoing bottlenecks that cause the most problems and inefficiencies, it’s most important to focus on finding solutions for those.

(Source: Shutterstock)

Let’s take a look at common bottlenecks now, and see how you can supercharge your processes in your business.

Short-Term and Long-Term Bottlenecks

Bottlenecks are setbacks that hinder a businesses’ productivity, efficiency, or speed. They’re a point in your workflow where the incoming work can’t be handled as it arrives, causing a delay in the next step. 

Short-Term Bottlenecks are mostly temporary and can resolve themselves when things go back to normal. An example would be when a key staff member called in sick or took a vacation day, and no one is qualified to take over, causing a backlog of work. 

Short-term bottlenecks are usually unpredictable. If left uncompounded, the impact is negligible; but if they happen at the wrong time, they could lead to delays in your workflow.

Long-Term Bottlenecks are the ones you should watch out for and eliminate. They’re more serious and persistent, indicating a problem in the workflow system itself. They cause frequent delays in business and could severely impact your bottom line. 

Examples include slow or inefficient processes, constant miscommunication between people or departments, or poor customer support that lead to long wait times.

Bottlenecks can be easy to identify in some cases. Unfortunately, sometimes the serious ones are spotted too late. You only start to notice them when they start causing blockages in your workflow. 

Here are some signs that you may have bottlenecks in your business:

Work Backlogs – This can be seen as work piling up on one end.

Long Wait Times – Within a company, it could be people waiting for reports, approvals, information, and delivery of goods. Or, it could be when customers have to wait for a long time to receive a product, service, or customer support.

High-Stress Levels – Because of the unpredictability, waiting, and rush to get things done, you or your employees could be constantly in stress mode, or even worse, feeling burned out.

Dissatisfied Customers – Bad reviews, complaints, and lack of returning buyers mean something in your process is not making your customers happy and often, this is inefficient.

How Do Bottlenecks Hinder Business?

Even large corporations aren’t immune to bottlenecks. In 2017, Tesla missed its target for the launch of its Model 3 sedan. Elon Musk’s goal was to deliver 1,500 units. The actual number released? 260. It was because of a bottleneck in their battery production line. 

It led to lost sales and a drop of almost 2% in their stock price.

In his article “The Cost of Poor Communications,” leading communications consultant David Grossman talks about the financial impact of bottlenecks in miscommunication. In a survey among 400 companies with 100,000 employees, he found that inadequate communication cost the companies to lose an average of $62.4 million per year.

That’s a steep price to pay for something you can avoid. 

How Do You Identify Bottlenecks?

You can’t fix what you can’t see and don’t measure. To identify bottlenecks, it helps to:

        • Visualize what each and every step of your processes look like
        • Measure how much time they take
        • Get down to the root causes of problems

Two commonly used techniques are Business Process Mapping and The Five Whys.

Business Process Mapping

Frank Gilbreth, the father of process mapping, stressed the importance of business process mapping in his paper called “Process Charts: First Steps in Finding the One Best Way to Do Work.”

“Every detail of a process is more or less affected by every other detail;” he writes, “therefore the entire process must be presented in such form that it can be visualized all at once before any changes are made in any of its subdivisions.”

Flowcharts are a great way to visualize all your processes at the same time. You can make them as simple or as thorough as you need them to be, like these two examples:



Once you’ve broken everything down, try to identify areas where processes are inefficient, or where tasks seem to circle back on themselves multiple times. This will give you a good idea about what needs to be addressed.

The Five Whys Technique

(Source: AllAboutLean)

The Five Whys technique, developed by Toyota founder Sakichi Toyoda, is a problem analysis method that drills down right to the very bottom of an issue by going through the layers and revealing the final Why: the problem that must be solved.

Instead of just slapping a band-aid on the symptom, you work on finding and fixing the real cause. As long as you can fight the temptation to pass the blame, that is!

Here’s how you can work through the Five Whys:

(Source: Oliver Serrat)

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After mapping out your processes and asking the right questions, you can now see what needs to be fixed. 

In the next section, I’ll cover some common bottleneck situations that can hinder your business and ways that you can fix them.

Common Bottlenecks and Tips for Improved Efficiency

Approvals Process Bottlenecks

For a lot of businesses, many processes, requests, or projects need to be signed off by someone who approves them before they can be implemented. In some organizations, it can even go through several sets of eyes before getting the go-ahead. The period of waiting can take away a good chunk of productive time if anyone involved in the approval chain falls behind on the task. 

There’s also the matter of how you roll out your approval processes. Do you still require actual paperwork and real signatures? Is it online? Do you keep records that are easily retrievable when someone needs them?

How to Fix It:

To eliminate approval bottlenecks, find out the number of people involved and determine how necessary each of them is in the approval process. Reducing the number lessens the chances of delays.  

Next, look into your whole approval sequence, from when and how requests are made up to the point that they are completed. See if you have too many steps and if the tools you use to do them are efficient. 

A great way to save time on the approval process is to use automation whenever possible. Approvals are a part of business operations and automating them leaves more room for you and your staff to focus more on real, productive work.

Production and Workflow Bottlenecks

You can’t make a sale when there’s no product or service to sell. That’s why it’s absolutely crucial that your team is operating as efficiently as possible.

Bottlenecks in your workflow can be caused by loads of different things. Inadequate or outdated equipment, inadequate monitoring of inventory and supply chain processes, inaccurate forecasting, and mismanaged labor.

How to Fix It:

    • Look to automate things whenever possible. If you’ve found that something is happening inefficiently, look for a tool or plugin that can help to resolve it. Often, one is available. 
    • Identify tasks that you are spending your time on. Document where you are spending your time each day. 
    • Assign a value to all tasks that are important, things that add value to your bottom line in some way.
    • Look to outsource the lower value tasks, while focusing on spending your time on the highest value ones.
    • In addition to unnecessary tasks, also try to eliminate unnecessary steps.

Systems and Technology Bottlenecks

Technology can also cause problems and delays. This is especially true if you’re using slow, outdated systems or tools.

How to Fix It:

      • Analyze your current system and perform routine PC maintenance.
      • Implement security protocols to protect your data and customer data as well.
      • Connect all computers and software into an integrated system. However, store important information offline whenever possible so that it cannot be hacked or compromised in any way.
      • IT not your thing? Delegating the task to an expert allows you to work more on your business while they focus on improving your setup.

Cloud computing can be another business solution since it allows you to access data and programs stored on a remote server anywhere that you have an internet connection. Data is also backed up. This means easy access across devices plus a fail-safe solution against server crashes and cyber attacks. Just keep in mind that the most sensitive data shouldn’t be available on the cloud.

Communication Bottlenecks

Bottlenecks in communication are another common issue today. Time is wasted when teams aren’t communicating as efficiently as they could be. 

How to Fix It:

  • Take the time and proper resources to make sure your message is delivered with the right meaning. Get feedback from the receiving end to make sure your point is clear.
  • Avoid email overload. The average office worker receives 121 emails per day. If you also communicate via other means like group chats or calls, that can result in overwhelm or even loss of important information. Streamline your communication channels as much as possible, email only when it’s very important, and stick to fewer communication channels so that they know where to find important messages when they need it.

(Source: Shutterstock)

Customer Support Bottlenecks

For many companies today, customer support is a big issue, and something that takes a lot of time. 

Delta Airlines has found a good way to reduce their customer support requests, by sending out an email that incentivizes users to use the app, rather than call in a flight change, they’ve been able to reduce customer support requests.

Here’s a look at an email that I recently received from them:

And their approach appears to be working. As a result of some of their recent initiatives, travelers rated Delta Airlines as the top carrier in 2020, for the 10th year in a row in Business Travel News’ Airline Survey. Some 60% of people in the survey think that their customer service has improved since the previous year, with effective client communication being their highest-scoring area.


(Source: Business Travel News)

Long waiting times in your process can also cause you to lose out on customers and repeat buyers. If you do have delays that are unavoidable, consider finding a way to streamline those processes. You’ll keep your customers happy, and save yourself a lot of wasted resources as well.

Team Management Bottlenecks

When people involved can’t finish their tasks in a timely or effective manner, this can also result in bottlenecks. 

How to Fix It:

      • Set clear goals and objectives from the start.
      • Provide job descriptions that detail daily tasks and requirements.
      • Depending on your business model, you may also want to consider providing ongoing training for your team. Upgrading their knowledge and skillset not only gives you smarter and more effective people, but it also boosts team morale and shows that you care about their personal development.
      • Consider cross-training employees. This gives them a better awareness of the whole organization and the functions of other roles. It also allows for flexibility in scheduling in case one employee isn’t available.
      • Promote organization in the workplace. Chris Miksen in his article on Chron Small Business says “A disorganized workplace results in bottlenecks, because employees and management cannot find what they’re looking for, resulting in a slowdown or a complete standstill.”

Decision Making Bottlenecks

Finally, another major bottleneck in many companies is decision making. Often, there’s an inability to make decisions within companies, which means that they get pushed aside for another day. When this happens, it limits a company’s ability to grow, something that can compound quickly as important decisions are needed almost every day. Having a good decision making process in place can help you to overcome this bottleneck.

How to Fix It:

Look to reduce analysis paralysis.

When it comes to decision-making on a management level, empower your people to make decisions on their own. Ensure the decision-making process within your company is pristine. You cannot control the confidence level of your employees but you can instill a risk-taking mentality in your business mindset. Work to boost your team’s confidence by giving them more responsibility, and letting them take the lead whenever they can.

Problems may come up in your business, but it’s important to know that there are ways to prevent them. 

Leaving a bottleneck unresolved will always cost you more than treating it.

Taiichi Ohno, designer of the Lean Manufacturing System says that “Having no problems is the biggest problem of all.” By looking out for ways to improve efficiency and address problems that you might be having, rather than giving into the temptation to sweep them under the rug, you’ll be able to find a way to get to where you want to be in your business. And will have happier customers, and team members as a result.

Sometimes, problems like bottlenecks can be difficult to spot. Do you need help in crushing your bottlenecks in business? Reach out today for your FREE 20-minute consultation call. Let’s find solutions to help you scale your business!

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