Bottlenecks Blog Feature

Bottlenecks in Project Management: 10 Prevention Strategies

Picture this: You map out the chef’s kiss of project plans, plotting all deliverables, due dates, and assignees. The workflow? Precise. The timeline? Flawless. The team? Impeccable. 🤩

And yet, halfway through the project, your team finds the plan completely derailed. And there’s not enough caffeine in the tri-state area to fuel you toward an on-time finish. ☕

This scenario is all-too-familiar to project managers, who often find themselves reassigning tasks, pushing deadlines, and apologizing to clients during a delayed project. The culprit? Bottlenecks, or a point of congestion that slows down production.

To help you better understand bottlenecks—and avoid them in future projects—we dive into what they are, how to identify them, and how to prevent them at your company.

What is a Bottleneck?

Put simply, a bottleneck is anything that disrupts, derails, or delays your project plan.

Think of a literal bottleneck: The narrow point or neck of a bottle built to slow down the flow of liquid. In the same regard, bottlenecks in project management act as a point of restriction—a point where there’s too much work to be done and not enough people, processes, and systems in place to handle it. 🧐

While they vary industry to industry, there are typically two types of bottlenecks:

  • Short-term bottlenecks: Short-term bottlenecks are often caused by a shortage of labor and are temporary issues. For example, a department store might experience a bottleneck during December with an increase of holiday shoppers
  • Long-term bottlenecks: Long-term bottlenecks extend for a long period of time, with inefficient systems or processes being the root cause. For example, an advertising agency that doesn’t invest in an effective project management software would experience a long-term bottleneck
Bottlenecks: ClickUp's Dashboard
Get a holistic view of project statuses and remaining tasks across your team or department with Dashboards in ClickUp 3.0

Bottlenecks, while common, can cause disastrous effects for project managers and the company as a whole. Since bottlenecks are coupled with delayed timelines and increased costs, it causes a domino effect, leading to disgruntled clients, costly budgets, scrapped marketing plans, and frustrated team members.

Consequences of Bottlenecks in Your Operations

A bottleneck can wreak havoc on your project (and in time, your entire company). While bottlenecks vary depending upon the size, scope, and timeline of your original project plan, there are some universal consequences you need to be aware of.

Missing deadlines

If there’s too much work to go around, and not enough people and/or processes to handle it, hitting a project deadline becomes next to impossible. For example, when bottlenecks occur in the manufacturing process, they can delay the entire production line. This, in turn, delays the launch of the final product.

Creating a new task and setting up a due date in ClickUp’s Task view
Easily and quickly set start and due dates within a task or use conditional settings to have dates repeat or create a new task after completion

In project management, missed deadlines or reassigned tasks can cause long wait times between team members. If an employee is late turning in a report, their supervisor must push back their review, which prevents the graphic design team from starting work on time. The result? It’s either a mad-dash to the finish, or you deliver the report late to the end client.

Going over budget

Experiencing bottlenecks is one of the easiest ways to go over budget. For example, if you have a bottleneck within your supply chain, you’ll need to source from different vendors or place a rush order. This quickly increases the cost of raw materials, putting total production over budget.

Project managers often find their overhead spiking after a bottleneck. If the project experiences unexpected downtime—thus delaying the project—the company might have to pay employees overtime to finish on schedule. Or, they might have to hire seasonal workers or contractors to help alleviate the workload.

High employee turnover

No one wants to work in a constant state of stress, miscommunication, and reassigned due dates. If project bottlenecks have team members operating at maximum capacity, it can quickly lead to frustration and burnout.

According to Gallup’s State of the Workforce 2023 report, nearly half (44%) of workers feel stressed on a daily basis. This leads to high employee turnover, which could be why 51% of employees are actively searching for another job. Lesson learned: If you want to retain top talent, stop bottlenecks before they happen, thereby reducing late nights, reassigned tasks, or scrambled projects for employees.

Strained relationships with vendors

Experiencing common bottlenecks throughout the production process can tarnish your relationship with suppliers or vendors. For example, while a few extra orders are nice, constant last-minute orders can quickly become tiring. In addition, if bottlenecks cause you to miss payments, you might find yourself blacklisted from a trusted vendor.

Dampened relationships with clients

Bottlenecks threaten overall production, which can strain—or end—relationships with clients. If your team misses deadlines, reschedules meetings, or turns in subpar work, clients could fire you as a provider. This hurts your bottom line and damages your reputation, which could prevent you from landing future contracts.

Practical Steps to Identify and Manage Bottlenecks

Do you suspect bottlenecks are threatening your business? Follow the steps below to conduct a bottleneck analysis on your project workflows. 🔍

1. Understand your bottleneck

The first step to mitigating a bottleneck? Understanding the problem you’re up against.

When it comes to project management, there are two causes of bottlenecks:

  • Systems-based bottlenecks: Systems-based or process bottlenecks typically mean you don’t have the right processes, software, or infrastructure in place to handle your current workload. Perhaps you don’t have the right project management software, assembly line setup, or workflow automations to keep up with client demands
  • People-based bottlenecks: People-based bottlenecks typically mean you don’t have enough people—or perhaps, the right people—to keep up with project demands. This could mean you need to hire seasonal workers, hire a senior worker, or find a colleague with a unique skill set
Bottlenecks: ClickUp’s Timeline view
Visually compare team workloads and track progression with the ClickUp Timeline view

Understanding the issue in your workflow can help you solve the problem, whether it means hiring new team members, improving business processes, or upgrading your software.

2. Map out your processes

Process mapping gives you a 500-foot-level overview of your flow of work. You can view each step in your project plan, understanding which tasks were completed on time and which caused a backlog of work.

Bottlenecks: rearranging nodes in ClickUp's Mind Maps
Within ClickUp’s Mind Maps, you can easily rearrange nodes based on their hierarchal structure

By mapping out your entire project—typically through a flowchart or other tool—you can identify points of contention in your timeline. From there, you can analyze metrics to identify where bottlenecks tend to happen.

3. Talk to your team

Sure, numbers never lie—but they also don’t always tell the whole story. Gather all stakeholders together, from upper management to associates, asking them which tasks are most time-consuming or often get lost in the shuffle. 

By having an open and honest conversation with your team, you can find out who is most overwhelmed, why drops in communication happen, and who could lend an extra hand.

4. Create a continuous improvement plan

Once you’ve identified bottlenecks in your project plans, it’s time to adjust. Identify where you can remove inefficiencies and redundancies, or balance the workload throughout your team. Implementing a continuous improvement plan can boost team morale, keep projects on schedule and budget, and strengthen relationships with clients and vendors.

Bottleneck Prevention Methods: 10 Ways to Stay on Track

Looking to mitigate bottlenecks in project management? Below, find 10 strategies to keep your project plan on track—and the workload management tools you need to make it happen. 👏

1. Create a visual representation of your workflows

Bottlenecks: sketching a project workflow in ClickUp's Whiteboard
Brainstorm, strategize, or map out workflows with visually collaborative ClickUp Whiteboards

The best way to eliminate bottlenecks is to create a visual of each step in your project plan. Use the ClickUp Whiteboard feature to sketch every project workflow. From there, team members can make notes, identify points of congestion, or even draw an alternate workflow.

2. Automate repetitive tasks

If your team consistently finds themselves operating at limited capacity, help alleviate the burden by automating repetitive tasks.

Bottlenecks: ClickUp’s Automations list
Quickly view and manage active and inactive Automations across Spaces with user updates and descriptions

With ClickUp Automations, you can choose from 100+ automations to streamline workflows, routine tasks, and project handoffs. Plus, you can automatically assign tasks, add comments, or update statuses to prevent bottlenecks before they happen. Doing so can help your team focus on top priorities and keep your project running smoothly.

3. Implement capacity planning

Capacity planning involves estimating the resources requirements to complete a given project (i.e., the people, time, and tools necessary to get things done). A key piece of proper operations management, capacity planning is a supply-versus-demand equation, calculating how many resources you need and how many resources you have to give.

Bottlenecks: ClickUp's Workload view
See team workloads at glance to better delegate or reassign tasks and quickly understand who is under or over capacity

Fortunately, ClickUp’s Workload view makes capacity planning easy, giving you a visual on how much work is delegated to each team member. From there, you can get a visual of each team member’s capacity related to their current workload.

4. Create a gantt chart

ClickUp’s Gantt chart view
Group, filter, or hide tasks in ClickUp 3.0 Gantt charts to track and connect workflows across all your work

Gantt Charts are incredible tools that give you a visual of all project timelines to maximize productivity. With ClickUp’s Gantt Charts, you can track project progress, manage deadlines, and spot potential bottlenecks. Plus, you can create cascading views to easily prioritize important tasks.

5. Understand dependent tasks

One of the root causes of bottlenecks is dependent tasks (i.e., tasks that could block or prevent another task from beginning). With ClickUp Dependencies, you can create relationships between tasks or documents. Simply create “blocking” or “waiting on” dependencies so your team always understands the best order of operations.

6. Leverage a process improvement template

Process improvement helps determine the efficiency of systems and processes within your organization. With a process improvement template, you can create a synchronized plan for making changes to your project. 

ClickUp's Work Breakdown Structure Template
Customize stages of your own or use the Work Breakdown Structure Template’s readymade categories to stay on top of process improvement to-dos

Fortunately, ClickUp comes with multiple templates where you can add custom fields, customize your view, or collaborate with colleagues to easily put your plan into action.

7. Break down projects into milestones

Projects that extend for several weeks—if not months or years—can be intimidating. To prevent a large project from unraveling, be sure to break down projects into smaller chunks.

Using ClickUp’s Milestones filter
Easily spot your project’s critical points with ClickUp Milestones and use bold, diamond icons to keep everyone focused on key targets

Implementing project milestones breaks down your plan into different phases (e.g., a design phase or development phase), thereby keeping your team on track. Leverage a milestone chart to get a high-level overview of each phase of your project. Then, use ClickUp custom statuses functionality to keep your team up-to-date as you work toward each milestone.

8. Speak directly to team members

As we mentioned above, sometimes data doesn’t paint a clear picture—which is why you need to speak directly to team members when improving project plans.

If you’re looking to prevent bottlenecks, solicit team members for feedback on what worked (and what didn’t) on past projects. Within ClickUp, you can host a brainstorming session or send a questionnaire to all relevant parties. From there, you can understand whether a bottleneck was due to a lack of resources, a lack of personnel, or because you didn’t have the right project management tools.

9. Implement time tracking

ClickUp's Time tracking view
View tracked time across tasks and locations for a simplified look into overall team progress

One reason projects derail is that teams underestimate how much time it takes to complete a given task. To ensure all project schedules are accurate, leverage ClickUp Time Tracking. Team members can easily record time from any device, edit entries, and add notes to time logs to create better future time estimates.

10. Consolidate team communication

Projects don’t always get off track because your team isn’t communicating. Instead, they may get off track because they communicate in the wrong places.

Bottlenecks: ClickUp's Chat view
Bring team communication together in one space with ClickUp Chat and share updates, link resources, and collaborate effortlessly

If your team is forced to sort through emails, text messages, and Slack channels to find the latest update on a project, it’s not doing you any favors. Fortunately, with ClickUp Chat view, you can consolidate all conversations within your project management software, thereby preventing bottlenecks before they happen.

Prevent Bottlenecks Before They Happen With ClickUp

A bottleneck in project management occurs when you have too much work and too few resources to handle it. The congestion results in a backlog of work, thereby causing project plans to go over budget or over the allotted timeline.

Fortunately, ClickUp has the project management tools to identify bottlenecks and keep your plans on track. With ClickUp, you can assign tasks, make comments, set project milestones, and customize views to prevent bottlenecks before they occur. Plus, you can automate repetitive tasks, integrate ClickUp with hundreds of other systems, and leverage thousands of templates to help your team stay on schedule.

Start identifying bottlenecks in no time when you try ClickUp today. 🙌

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