How to eliminate Bottlenecks with Kanban?


One of the major problems in a team is delivering demands, tasks, or even a product at the right time.

When was the last time your team delivered a product on time? No delays or any overtime made by certain members.

Process bottlenecks are among the reasons why projects are delayed, budgets are blown with the added costs of delays, and the entire process becomes unpredictable.

Instead of fighting the symptoms, all a manager needs is a simple bottleneck analysis and devising preventive measures to save the day.

In this article, you will check how to use Kanban to identify and analyze process bottlenecks to establish flow and keep process in control.

We also already have some articles on Kanban Boards and how you can use them. Come and check it out!

Kanban: 7 tips to Take Over this Board!
Kanban Boards x Scrum: What is the Difference?

What is a Bottleneck?

In its simplest definition, a process bottleneck is a work step that receives more orders than it can handle, at its maximum throughput capacity. This causes an interruption in the flow of work and delays in production processes.

In other words, even if the work stage operates at its maximum capacity, it still won’t process all the work items fast enough to push them to the next stage without causing delays.

The workflow bottleneck can be a computer, a person, a department, or the entire work step. Typical examples of bottlenecks in knowledge work are software testing and quality review processes.

Unfortunately, a bottleneck is often recognized only after it causes a workflow to stall.

In Kanban, there are simple but effective analysis tools that can help you to prevent work obstruction and pinpoint an existing bottleneck.

The workflow process with Kanban

In these cases, identifying and adding all these steps in secondary columns on your Kanban board will help you a lot in optimizing your work processes. It’s this level of granularity that will give you access to the information you need to optimize your team’s production processes.

The main idea behind this is that every job has cycles that will be repeated continuously throughout the project.

These cycles can be called processes and tend to be repeated when the flow arrives at certain stages of the production process, or at a certain frequency.

If you repeat these cycles, you can analyze your team’s productivity for production bottlenecks, and check possibilities to further impact your workflow to have more data, and give opportunities to adjust and optimize your processes.

These analyzes will lead you to lower direct and indirect costs and increase your real profit per project.

How important is it to assess existing production bottlenecks?

Among the various problems a business can face, production bottlenecks are among the most impactful. Maintained on a continuous basis, this type of failure can directly influence the business result.

Here, it is worth emphasizing that production bottlenecks compromise the functioning of the entire company.

The company increases its delays, loses productivity, and reduces the quality of use of available resources. Thus, the quality of services drops drastically, making room for competition in the company’s operating sector.

How to work correctly with production bottlenecks?

The first step in combating production bottlenecks is to be able to identify the existence of such problems.

If you find that your workflow is unpredictable and operates sporadically instead of a smooth one, you have a bottleneck somewhere.

The real problem is in its location and definition of an adequate measure. In Lean Management,  for example, in order to detect a bottleneck, you can use various Kanban bottleneck analysis tools.

Here are 3 steps to identify a bottleneck:

1)Preview: Tracking your work in the form of to-do cards on a Kanban board makes it easy to see where your work is piling up, which is a strong sign of trouble, probably a bottleneck.

2)Queue and Activity Mapping: When we separate queues and activities and map them on the Kanban board, we can see how long our work waits in a queue before an activity. If that queue grows significantly faster than the activity step processes the work, you’ve encountered a bottleneck.

3)Calculation of Cycle Time by Stage: Calculating the cycle time at each step allows you to build a heat map diagram of the cycle time. When looking at this diagram, the stages where the cards spend the most time will be revealed. If these workflow steps are also queued, then these are likely bottlenecks.

So, what’s next? How to deal with a bottleneck?

Sometimes you can easily resolve the bottleneck by allocating more resources or people to that stage or process. This could mean hiring more QA testers for a more streamlined production flow.

However, what if that bottleneck requires a particularly scarce resource or a specialty that is hard to find? In some cases, the cost of resolving the bottleneck can be very high.

If you fail to take care of a bottleneck, it will always cost more than solve it. What should you do next?

Here are some things you can do to contain the bottleneck:

It never leaves you standing: Because of the domino effect it has on the rest of the flow, the bottleneck process must always be at full capacity.

Reduce tension on the neck: Make sure the work arrives in the best possible shape. If your review process is a bottleneck, make sure quality is built from the ground up. The work to be reviewed must be perfect, each error the reviewer finds will cost more time and money.

Manage WIP limits: If work-in-progress limits are somewhat liberal at the bottleneck and there is a lot of context switching, consider lowering the WIP limit. If there is no WIP limit, consider allocating one.

Process work in groups: Some of the operations would take less time if you organize similar work items into groups. However, be careful, the larger the group, the greater the risk. The general rule of thumb is the smaller the group the better, but in the real world, we sometimes have to make compromises.

Add more people and resources: If possible, increase the bottleneck’s ability to speed up the process. However, keep your eyes open, as resources are redistributed in the system, another bottleneck will appear elsewhere in the system.

People have an important role in carrying out activities, and that is why it is necessary to keep them always competent and focused on the desired results. When the team is disqualified, the number of mistakes is likely to grow dramatically.

Count on the help of modern software: In fact, it is important to have the help of technology to eliminate production bottlenecks. Today, there is modern project management software capable of facilitating the management of the various resources (human, material, and financial) involved.

In this way, good software contributes to making production much more efficient. With it, it is possible to have greater control of tasks, make better decisions, eliminate communication noise and continuously monitor the results obtained.

Continuous Analysis of Bottlenecks with Kanban

The key to a healthy and productive flow is minimal process interruption, the work must flow freely with the force of the pull system

In modern-changing marketplaces, whenever the relative balance in the production system is upset, you will need to review the workflow to see if there are new obstructions and what needs to be done to reduce their effects.

Get your work under control with lean bottleneck analysis tools and Kanban workflows to achieve an unprecedented level of flow predictability.

Get rid of bottlenecks using GitScrum’s Kanban Boards!

GitScrum has special features to help you to produce more and get efficient results with your team. Use our Kanban Boards to eliminate bottlenecks in all processes.

Sign up now and work with Agile and Scrum methodologies!