Bottlenecks and Hotspots
Bottlenecks and hotspots can create a chain of events leading to lost revenue, dissatisfied customers, wasted time, defective products or services, stressed team members and poor morale. Having processes in place to identify where they could occur and what steps to take if they do, can avoid material losses.
A bottleneck in a process occurs when inputs arrive faster than the process is able to convert them into outputs. Inputs can include data and information, products or raw materials, customers or even man-hours. Outputs can be part completed or completed products.
There are two main types of bottlenecks: short-term bottlenecks and long-term bottlenecks.
Short-term bottlenecks are caused by temporary problems such as late delivery by a supplier or one or more team members both off through illness. Usually, short-term bottlenecks have a localised impact and are by definition temporary.
Long-term bottlenecks, such as long delays in making decisions, can be more difficult to spot, but have a significant impact and consequences not just locally but potentially throughout the organisation.
In manufacturing or assembly line scenario, often it is possible to see bottlenecks when parts and part finished products pile up at a certain point. In a service-based scenario or a business process, they can be harder to find.
There are usually three signs to look for:
- Long wait times – work is being delayed because people are waiting for a product, a report, or a part or decision.
- Backlogged work – work is piling up at one stage of a process and too little work is being undertaken at other stages of a process.
- High stress levels – individuals and team experience continuous or periods of intense stress.
Hotspots exist where the probability of a problem occurring is high and the impact of that problem is significant.
There are two types of hotspots: potential and actual hotspots:
Potential hotspots exist where there are clusters of problems or symptoms of problems that go either relatively unnoticed or are continually ‘patched-up’ with sticking plasters. In the short-term the ‘sticking plasters’ work, but periodically the pressure builds and the potential hotspot erupts into an ‘actual hotspot event’.
An actual hotspot event means an eruption has happened causing significant damage and harm to people, relationships and reputation. The damage might even extend to physical harm, accidents and fatalities. Cleaning up after an actual hotspot is messy, resource-intensive and to be avoided through the use of proactive potential hotspot management.
Whilst it might not be possible to completely eliminate bottlenecks and avoid hotspots, the use of techniques such as “root cause analysis” and “critical path analysis” and “value stream mapping” can be highly effective. Expedient, short-term solutions merely delay the inevitable and ensure that the eventual consequences are much greater.