There is Always a Bottleneck

All processes have a bottle neck, a rate limiting step.  Something that holds them back.  There is always a bottleneck.

Maybe it’s the neck of the bottle:


Maybe it’s the speed of the pump:


Maybe it’s the width of the falls:

Niagra Falls

Maybe it’s even the lack of rain:

Dry River Bed

But there is always a bottleneck or constraint.  You can change it or move it, but you can never get rid of it.

There is always a bottleneck.

Why you need to know

If you are doing any operations analysis, working out how to make your operation faster or cheaper you must find the bottle neck.  It is the only place you will make any difference.  Fortunately finding the bottleneck is easy…

Look for the backlog

The backlog is always just before the bottleneck.  Find the biggest backlog, the queue of unhappy customers and there you will find your bottleneck, directly in-front of it.

Once you get your eye in you will find the bottleneck in all shapes and sizes.

What to do once you have found the bottleneck:

  1. Make sure the bottle neck is always working, as fast as it can.  Never let the bottleneck stop, if it stops everything stops.
  2. Open the bottle neck, hire some people and get them to work at the bottleneck, or improve the process, (a cheaper, wiser option) either which way cut the constraint.
  3. Find the next bottleneck, once you have reduced one constraint another will kick in.  Focus on that next.

But whatever else you do

Don’t let somebody stand by the bottleneck and ignore it.  That would just be plain foolish.

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Images by Tekke, x1kilma, Janine Curry and Grant Wickes


  1. Hi James,
    What would systems thinking say about this?

    And, have you read The Goal by Eli Goldratt?


  2. Hello James
    Excellent point that is highly pertinent to chain links systems. I suspect that you have come across Goldratt and the Theory of Constraints.


  3. James Lawther says:

    You are right Maz, I have read it and it is where the idea came from. This was my 3 minute version with pictures. Maybe the internet dumbs things down?


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