Process Bottleneck – What, Why and Its Influence

08 Jan, 2020 | 4 minutes read

Even though we are familiar with the fact that it is impossible to control the stages of a project, we can agree that keeping control is a good thing. From work experience, the most typical examples of bottlenecks can occur in software testing and quality review processes, and if left untreated can cause a lot of problems.

When a bottleneck occurs in software development it manifests an issue that slows down or stops the particular process and the project cannot continue developing forward. The reason why this happens is because in all methodologies one stage evolves to another, and when that stage development is interrupted the entire process breaks down.

The “bottleneck effect” often occurs at the stage where the funds go over the limit, when there is a great demand that goes beyond the production capacity.

Bottleneck Problem
(Bottleneck problem)

Which are the most critical stages of the bottleneck process?

Bottlenecks can happen in all of the project methodologies. The project begins with presenting the first steps and the “To do” list filled with all the work that needs to be completed during the project. This is the first potential phase where bottlenecks can happen, and if it does happen it is usually because of the many different opinions that the involved parties in the project have. This can become a great “starting point” of a potential bottleneck that will have to be solved as soon as possible by reaching an agreement by the project involved parties.

But basically, the problem usually appears in the maintenance phase. This can happen during the time the employees wait for the customer issues to be taken into consideration as soon as possible, and it is the same tame when bottlenecks and new costs take place and affect the budget. This is when the whole process becomes unpredictable.

Process Bottleneck in testing
(Process Bottleneck in testing)

The two most critical areas where manual intervention can interrupt agility are testing and deployments, especially if testing is performed manually. According to the agile methodology, continuous integration can’t be implemented with continuous delivery because if the testing is done manually it can increase the production of defects which can create more unplanned work. When deployments are performed fully or partially manually, the risk of deployment failure increases significantly which lowers the quality and reliability and leads to unplanned work.

(Process Bottleneck in deployment)

Identifying the bottlenecks!

Even when the project requirements are known, the chance for a potential bottleneck does not go away. The purpose of the requirements is to define all the things that are needed for the project and the team to complete the required work. Too much or incomplete details could just slow things down. The team members will either spend time working on unnecessary information or spend valuable time searching for the correct information. Neither of these is desirable and could create a bottleneck concerning the requirements at any stage of the project.

Having bottlenecks can lead to low self-esteem of the employees, overstock, pressure from customers and delays in the entire production process. Too many work requests that can’t be processed can be the genuine bottleneck problem, which interrupts the workflow and the production process. Even when work is being done with the maximum capacity, it can`t process all the items quickly enough to push them to the next stages without causing a delay. Unfortunately, a bottleneck is often acknowledged after it has caused enough damage to the whole workflow process.

(Managing bottlenecks cycle)

There are two basic types of bottlenecks:

  • Short-term bottlenecks – These are smaller and temporary ones taking only a short time to be solved.
  • Long-term bottlenecks – These are the bigger ones (the blockages) that occur regularly and usually take more time for localization and solution.

In both types, the result can be low-quality products that can cause reduced revenue, unhappy customers or services, and most importantly big stress for the team members. That is why identifying and fixing them on time is so important.

Bottleneck improvement is an improvement to the entire process since the bottleneck controls the complete delivery time

To be able to recognize and handle or even be able to solve bottlenecks fast is the first important step for performance. Once the bottleneck is identified, evaluating the type of bottleneck is crucial for finding the solution.

"Leaving a bottleneck untreated will always cost you more than resolving it"
(“Leaving a bottleneck untreated will always cost you more than resolving it”)

To get things done on time with no interruption, the best way is to put the best team members to do the work and fix the bottleneck because they are probably the most prospective and most productive ones. Another way is adding capacity by hiring more developers for the current period of time which will increase the speed of work.

Keeping a productive flow means absolute minimum process interruption. The work has to go smoothly, with no bumps on the road. That is why a bottleneck analysis should be a constant and ongoing process.

To sum up, to be able to reach an extraordinary level of flow predictability you have to get your work under control with constant workflow checks and bottleneck analysis. And since bottlenecks can cause a lot of problems, treating them on time is of utmost importance.

If you have had an experience with bottlenecks and treatment of the same, get in touch with us and share your thoughts.