Bottlenecks and project delays

project delays

A bottleneck is basically a situation where work is delayed.

It can be a one-off event due to unforeseen circumstances, such as a team member who gets sick, or it can be events that happen on a regular basis due to poor planning or a lack of resources.

The most common methods of getting things back on track include working overtime, hiring additional support and pushing back the delivery date.

The problem is that all of these solutions end up eating up, and sometimes draining, the project budget, employee energy, and client patience.

Rather than looking for a quick fix, it’s important to address bottlenecks in projects before they arise.

This means a strong measure of forward planning, excellent communication with the team and beyond, and the right tools for the task.

What is a bottleneck and what is the cause?

Bottlenecks in projects occur when the team or an employee cannot process their work in a timely manner, thus causing a delay.

This could be due to a team member having to take an unplanned break, a technical issue arises, a communication breakdown occurs, or the manager has overestimated how much their team could do at maximum capacity.

Although it’s difficult to predict employee illness and faulty or out-of-service equipment, there are things you can do to help your team keep moving forward regardless.

How to find a bottleneck

When using a spreadsheet as a planning tool, you should identify bottlenecks where the number of hours of work to be done in a day exceeds the number of work hours in the day, either for an individual or for the team as a whole.

If you use a project management software, ou can leverage Gantt charts s a graphic way to organize schedules and quickly identify problems.

If you are working following the Lean method, you can keep track of work through Kanban charts and thus finding very quickly where there is an overrun – this is a possible sign of a potential bottleneck.

However, it is worth remembering that not all short delays are an indication of a bottleneck.

In this case, you can measure for how long work remains in the queue and note the number of items waiting.

If tasks start piling up faster than they are being processed, you are almost certainly experiencing a bottleneck.

How to stop a bottleneck before it happens

The most obvious and easiest way to deal with a bottleneck is to invest money and resources, but this is not always necessary.

Here are two of the most popular techniques for stopping a bottleneck before it’s too late:

Stopping a bottleneck: Processing the critical path

The Critical Path Method (CPM), helps identifying the most important activities and then coming up with the quickest way to complete a project. To process a project’s critical path, you need to identify the longest section of dependent activities. This gives a sort of “bare minimum” time frame that you can use to plan the project.

Stopping a bottleneck: Distributing resources – leveling

Resource leveling is, simply put, the act of working on a project with people assigned to a set of tasks and doing it in such a way that they don’t have to work overtime.

Basically, it’s a process of shuffling tasks so that team members can work on tasks consecutively instead of simultaneously, thus helping to avoid bottlenecks.

How to limit a bottleneck when it happens

Not every bottleneck necessarily escalates into a disaster. Here are some possible solutions to limit the effects of a bottleneck once it happens:

How to limit a bottleneck: Act promptly

Bottlenecks have a domino effect on the rest of the workflow, also introducing an element of chaos. When schedules change, deadlines can be ignored and emotions can overrule rationality, leading to bad decisions.

The key to mitigating blowback is to act quickly. If a bottleneck has already started, you need to address it immediately and not give it any more space.
project bottlenecks

How to limit a bottleneck: Do not compromise quality

In the case of a bottleneck, a project manager might be tempted to skip certain steps not considered so necessary, such as quality control. However, this is a bad idea.

Each project step is necessary, and skipping them may save time, but could lead to bigger problems later on.

How to limit a bottleneck: Keeping WIP (Work in progress) limits

The purpose here is to limit the amount of work that can be delayed in Work in Progress (WIP) stage. This is also less daunting and stressful for project team members.

How to limit a bottleneck: Increase resources

If you have people willing to help, why not take advantage of them? This will help get the job done quickly and efficiently. One way to do this would be to keep a list of trusted freelancers or external contractors who will work on call and can serve as backup.

It’s also a good idea to have a small budget set aside in case of an emergency.

How to limit a bottleneck: Prepare for all eventualities

The best way to address a bottleneck is to plan for one before it occurs. In this case, investing in good project management software allows for activity tracking tools and charts that help the project manager detect any potential bottlenecks ahead of time.

With a software like Twproject, for example, you could identify overloaded resources and take actions before a bottleneck became a real problem for your project.


Bottlenecks are one of the main reasons why projects get delayed, budgets are not met due to additional costs, and the whole process becomes unpredictable.

Preventing is always better than treating, even in the case of bottlenecks it is always better to have a plan to avoid encountering these obstacles, but even if they do occur, with the proper strategy it is always possible to avoid problems that will undermine a project’s success.

Avoid delays and bottlenecks.

One try is worth a million words.

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