How Technology Can Help You Identify Bottlenecks

Whether you’re a small business owner or a large corporation, it’s important to identify what’s holding you back and where improvements can be made. The process of identifying bottlenecks can be as easy as taking a picture or as complex as creating a computer program.

Companies that deal with bottlenecks turn to technology to identify the issue. It’s critical to understand where the problem is before it gets worse for everyone involved. Time is limited, and bottlenecks will only get worse without a strategy.

There are always bottlenecks in businesses. Learn how technology will help you to identify them and work on business improvements.

What Is a Bottleneck?

A bottleneck is considered the point of congestion in a fully working system. Even with the advanced analytical processing of data warehouse design, there is a chance for lower quality or consistency of data. With multiple flow points, finding a bottleneck in a system is an involved process. A database administrator only has so much time, and the other workers have tasks that need to be completed. When a bottleneck is in place, it affects everyone, no matter what position they are currently working. Any roadblock to success needs to be dealt with, especially when it can be as debilitating as a bottleneck.

How Does It Affect Your Business?

Manufacturing is the easiest way to look at the effects of a bottleneck. In a production system like an assembly line, a bottleneck can cause slowdowns, up to a complete halt. Imagine an entire line of workers waiting for the next product to fall into the queue. That would also include the workers after that team, and so on, and so on. A bottleneck takes the productive workflow out of multiple teams and turns them into onlookers. An employer that is paying employees to not work is throwing money into the wind. But this isn’t the fault of the workers, as it points to the significant impact of a bottleneck.

Turnovers

High turnover at the employee level is one of the most common causes of a bottleneck. As new workers get acclimated to the job, they move at a slower pace. This in turn slows down the team and everyone else involved in the production process. You’ll often see this with ‘training on the job positions. It doesn’t get much better for workers that skip that position and are whisked through a short training program. Both options cause a bottleneck. One is just more delayed than the other. A company with a high turnover rate will have an incredible number of bottlenecks at every position.

The Final Nail

Companies get buried when a bottleneck isn’t dealt with in a timely manner. As efficiency goes down in each department, the official numbers begin to nosedive. On paper, this can look like a sudden and unexplainable jump. But in real-time, a bottleneck is like a slow leak that will always drain a company’s resources. Things will look manageable in the short turn, but any long-term plans will be in jeopardy if you don’t take action. Every company deals with a bottleneck, but only a few know how to right the ship without any permanent damage.

Bringing In Technology

Before everything grinds to a halt, you have to understand the industry in question. If you move from the manufacturing side and concentrate on bottlenecks in a data warehouse, things get significantly more complicated. In this industry, you are dealing with large amounts of data from different sources. Trying to fix an actual physical bottleneck in manufacturing is completely different than fixing multiple issues with analysis, reporting, and data mining. You can lean on the experience of a handful of people, or you can explore the benefits of using technology to resolve the bottleneck. Many of the traditional methods used for physical bottlenecks still apply, but in this instance, they are upgraded to match the efficiency of unlimited data. Data warehousing can be the foundation of a business, so that means its actual efficiency determines the success of the company.

How Does It Identify Bottlenecks?

Workflow is the starting point when you look at unpredictability. What is the reason that the workflow isn’t smooth? The answer isn’t that obvious, and that is where technology comes in. It allows you to visualize, map, and measure variables in real-time. Being able to see where work items pile up is an advantage of using technology to visualize the bottleneck. Mapping queues and activities give you access to stages to rank the average time against the expected time. And finally, technology can measure cycle time to create a diagram to build an even fuller picture. All of this is only the tip of the iceberg when using technology to deal with data warehouse issues.

Mapping

Visual tools like value-stream mapping are analysis tools that can identify critical bottlenecks in the process. Even before technology was introduced, this type of mapping was used in lower levels of company overviews for business data. Technology-powered value-stream mapping can find production system problems long before they become a hindrance to the company. Since all company activities fall within the mapping, finding bottlenecks becomes trivial. Every company prioritizes different steps for value stream mapping. This makes it a unique tool, but the core will always be to analyze, design, and manage information.

Bottlenecks Reasons

Communication

Bad communication can cause a bottleneck between teams. Paper-based or verbal communication leaves a trail of clues, but the actual resolution can be time-consuming. Manually going through thousands of pages to find a bottleneck leads to a completely different set of errors. This is a problem when a missing piece of paperwork completely invalidates the information you collected. Technology is the answer to improving communication and tightening the time needed to find a bottleneck. Automated machine data collection is one of many ways technology can both find and prevent bottlenecks. Once you start taking preventative measures with technology, the entire process becomes more favorable.

Hardware Issues

Hardware bottlenecks are difficult to handle since there is a resource-intensive fix. A great example of this is a company that requires an average internet speed to handle its operations. Reliable speeds are vital for businesses that use VMware to handle operations. If the requirement is 100 Mbps per computer, then anything underneath that requirement would point to a bottleneck. This is crucial for the company to notice as an internet bottleneck means the entire network is compromised.

Until the bottleneck is resolved, any user that logs into a computer is playing the lottery. Their entire workday is a toss-up for productivity. Now multiply that one worker by multiple days, and it’s easy to come to the realization that company problems are never isolated. By the time you figure out the internet bottleneck, months have passed, and multiple workers have been affected. But, like all unresolved problems, it gets worse.

Using Ticketing System

A ticketing system exists in the company to report these types of problems. Out of the one-hundred or so workers affected, only two reported any issues. The IT department sees these two tickets and views them more as an isolated incidents. To save company resources and time, they run a basic check of the affected system and then reassign the worker to another machine. The slow-moving desktop is then temporarily decommissioned, and everyone moves on.

So far, over one hundred workers have been affected by this bottleneck, but only two machines have been decommissioned. The problem has still not been resolved, and the clock keeps on ticking until the next worker decides to report a problem. Where is the bottleneck, and why hasn’t it been fixed?

The hardware bottleneck in this story was a faulty router that couldn’t handle the data throughput of the company. At one point, the load was so unbearable that data loss was imminent, and only then did the company act to resolve the bottleneck. Time, money, and data were lost due to inaction from the company that let a hardware bottleneck control their business. The signs were there, but the company worked around the problem rather than targeting it directly. Technology didn’t fail the company, but the company failed the technology in place.

How to Prevent Such a Situation?

Daily, weekly, or even monthly checkups should have caught this bottleneck. Alerts can be set up to send push notifications to the department when speed dips below the desired value. Employees should be encouraged to use the ticketing system proactively rather than passively. And the IT department should have the capability to reference similar problems from employees, even if the tickets are months apart. The final failing in this scenario is that VMware has its own set of reporting tools built into the software. A business that wants to avoid hardware bottlenecks has to embrace the convenience of technology. 

Capacity Levels

A bottleneck can happen when one of your machines runs at full capacity without increasing its actual throughput. If it is attached to machines running similar processes, the extra utilization is limiting the potential of the other machines. Some businesses resolve this error by increasing the capacity of the machine that is the bottleneck. This is a temporary fix and one that has the potential to create a completely new bottleneck in the future. Businesses can use technology to track percentage utilization. This can be done per machine and is a much better solution than a temporary fix. Remember, sidestepping a bottleneck will only delay something much worse.

Resources

Sometimes the bottleneck is so severe that you don’t even need technology to find it. Resource bottlenecks are common in smaller companies that are adjusting their workflow. Worker shortages, financial issues, and sudden growth can cause a resource bottleneck. There are even times when you will have a ton of talented workers but limited equipment for the team to utilize their skillsets. It’s an unfair position to be in, but again, technology can help alleviate some of the pain.

When resource bottlenecks occur, you can resolve them by conducting an analysis to increase efficiency. Look at parts of your business that can use some tightening, whether it is quality or time. Reassign worker tasks as necessary to reduce a major bottleneck. By using flowchart data, you can visualize the entire process from beginning to end.

Three Workers and One Computer

Here is another way to look at it from the perspective of a business that is currently squandering its resources. You have three workers in the IT department that are A+ certified, but only one computer that is capable of running the ticketing program. You can have each one of them log in one at a time and get their assignments before going to the field. After completing the assignment, they return to get another. This is assuming that one of the other workers hasn’t already logged in and is getting their next assignment. This is a waste of resources and a bottleneck that is costing the company. 

Solution

The simple solution is to buy two more computers so that the three workers don’t have to share. But what if that isn’t an option due to financial or technical reasons? You can also let the other two workers go, but now you are one IT disaster away from regretting that decision. Here is one of many solutions that can occur if you understand how resource bottlenecks work.

Have one worker manage the ticketing system and send the other two workers out into the field. On slow days, have one working out in the field and the other performing preventative work. This gets rid of the bottleneck while bolstering the whole of your IT department. After a month, recheck your flowchart data and see how it affects the other departments. There should be a clear visualization of when this change happened in the company.

Repurposing talent is a smart way to handle resource bottlenecks. This also works with hardware and software as long as compatibility is given priority. Fixing resource bottlenecks is a learning opportunity for any business. It gets rid of a major issue in workflow by moving pieces around so that they are more effective in their current position. Keep an eye on changes, and the flexibility this move provides will aid a company for multiple years.

Make It a Priority

Technology is only useful when you unleash its full potential. Bottlenecks can happen at any level, so finding the cause should always be a priority. Like any problem, the solution will present itself only after careful research and planning.

Dragan Sutevski

Posted by Dragan Sutevski

Dragan Sutevski is a founder and CEO of Sutevski Consulting, creating business excellence through innovative thinking. Get more from Dragan on Twitter. Contact Dragan