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What is a bottleneck?

In both production and Lean Office, a bottleneck can be described as one process in a chain of processes which slows or stops production. 

In Lean Office this can be seen regularly, where a delay may be caused by waiting on others.  Either an Approval or Signature is required, awaiting information from another department, or not regularly checking an inbox and the mail goes unanswered for a period of time.

Waiting is one of the seven wastes, and is a key area for creating customer complaints, along with low employee morale.

In your process, it is important to build in cycle time i.e. the time taken to perform a task, plus indicate any waiting time. 

Building in cycle time helps identify bottlenecks AND dead time...

… so called because from the customer’s perspective, there is nothing happening.

Bottlenecks can be applied either in a process flow, or in list format. Here is an example for both:

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How to show a bottleneck in process flow format

In the following example: 

On the left side, the Cycle time is shown.  Cycle time indicates how long it takes for a task action to be completed by the user or operator.

On the right side, the waiting time is shown.  This is the delay between tasks; where an approval is needed, or time is required for other departments to complete their action part of the full process.

Waiting time is a bottleneck, and focus in this area to make reductions will help your process flow better.


This is a List showing the same information.  List format is often easier to create as a speadsheet program can be used rather than process mapping software. 

List format

Bottlenecks are a great source of waste and resource.  Take any process you have written and apply either a Process flow or List to show the Cycle Time and Wait time. 


You will be surprised how much waiting time is included in administrative processes.

If you have any other suggestions on how to identify bottlenecks in the Lean Office environment, we would like to her from you.  Contact us at flmLean.  Continuous Improvement is our reward.

As a Lean consultancy, we are passionate about simplicity and Lean is a mindset that we apply in all our areas of activity. Our reward is when we know that we helped you meeting your business objectives, where both management skills and tools play a key role.

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