Bottlenecks, A Business Crisis

Imagine you are working in the packing area of a warehouse – you’re on a roll until you discover that several of the boxes about to be shipped are all missing the same items.

You look to your workspace neighbor and they are getting through their packing sheets with ease. You look down the line and everything appears to be fine there too.

Finally, you bring up the matter with your supervisor and they ask you if you checked the backstock, which you already did. They take a second look and sure enough the products are not where they should be. Your supervisor goes to the production to see what the holdup is, come to find out that production has not completed those items and did not have your items marked as priority. The production supervisor says that it is unlikely that it will be finished before the day is over.

You return to your work space and find a place to temporarily put all the picked orders while you work on another packing sheet, and after time you pull another. Your shift is minutes from being over and you never receive the items you needed. Your boss is upset and tells you that it will have to wait until tomorrow and at that point the packages won’t be on time which will certainly let the customer down since it was supposed to be delivered the same day.

A bottleneck or restrictive elements to work activity, performance and workflow will always occur in businesses. They effect productivity which can in turn create timely and costly mistakes to work activity.

Glass Half Empty

Imagine a glass and a bottle that are as close as they can be in size. They are both filled with the same amount water. Now imagine someone pouring them out at the same time – which vessel empties slower?

The bottle will be the last to be emptied because the neck that prevents the liquid to empty at the rate the glass does. A bottleneck in the opener would be the production team not having the knowledge that the work order needed to be priority, more specifically it can be considered an internal constraint.

External constraints are factors that cannot be controlled, likely because of an outside factor. If in the example earlier the reason the products weren’t completed was because materials had not been delivered from the company they get their raw goods from then that is out of their control.

A delay in that delivery of raw materials needed to move forward on the work order could have been an external constraint.

If the production team would have assessed their priorities and had a proper inventory system set in place so that they could see they were missing materials at the beginning of the day to avoid the hold up.

If communication is good, work days are more productive and obstructions are at a minimum the throughput, or output rate will increase.

“To identify and fix bottlenecks is extremely vital, if left unresolved, they can give birth to a lot of problems in terms of lost revenue, dissatisfied customers, poor business reputation, and high stress levels among employees,” Mehvish Imtiaz reported in an article on Bottlenecks in Chain Supply for Linkedin.

“Identifying the root cause of the bottleneck is crucial, flow or process chart is the best way to reach it.”

There will always be bottlenecks in business but we must focus on how to eliminate them. In a supply chain avoiding them is imperative because it can affect the business in many ways as aforementioned.

Getting Everyone On Board

“Without any doubts we believe that a good business planning is not possible if there is no corporate forecasting, so we can conclude that planning is dependent on forecasting,” Imtiaz wrote. “It is impossible to have one person in the organization take the job of forecasting, it requires good level of co-ordination among all departments of a business.”

There are short-term bottlenecks where quick fixes can solve temporary problems, but long-term bottle necks require more upkeep and attention because they happen all the time.

No matter the forecast, whether it be two weeks or two years into the future having more than one person involved in forecasting or planning is important so that everyone can be on the same page.

Having a common goal or work process instilled allows the team to recognize what is needed in any given situation so judgement calls don’t have to be made, all players will be able to find bottlenecks and will be able to act or react to the problem and get help when they need it.

Again, setbacks and bottlenecks that may congest the flow of work are always likely to occur but how you tackle them is what is important. Preplan, forecast, communicate and problem solve to help minimize bottlenecks.

In order to get some foresight all you have to do is take a step back and ask yourself “Why?” to find problems in the supply chain. Flow charts are also helpful to see where along the line of work is the process stifled or where an obstruction maybe occurring.

For more information on how to stop bottlenecks in business and in your life visit Mind Tools. And BizShifts-Trends gives insight to Theory of Constraints (TOC) where problems occur amidst processes. The page breaks it down to five steps to manage and enhance business performance.

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