It’s no secret that bottlenecks are efficiency killers. But while many potential areas of congestion are identified and weeded out as part of routine project office improvement efforts, there remain many places in every project, and even within the Project Team itself, where bottlenecks can still lurk. Some might cause recurring issues while others may only raise their ugly head occasionally, when the circumstances are just right.

Eliminating these bottlenecks entirely may not be possible, but Project Teams can put measures in place to address and minimize congestion points when they crop up. If you suspect inefficiencies might be stemming from an unidentified bottleneck, use these tips to root out the issues and keep things moving smoothly.

Stop project bottlenecks

Look for communication funnels. These are workflows that drive any sort of data transfer—e-mails, memos, benchmarking values, purchasing requests, contract approvals, etc.—through a single point of contact, whether that’s one person or a specific department. As information is shuffled through the resulting narrow channel, the chances that progress could be held up start to increase.

Operational restrictions on how information moves within the project office and out to other departments, stakeholders, and external partners may be necessary and prudent. They’re often instrumental in controlling the release of sensitive information and ensuring that everyone has the data they need to do their jobs. Because there are legitimate reasons to tightly manage communications, it’s unlikely your team will be able to—or even want to—complete eliminate existing communication funnels. However, it is possible to lessen the risk that they’ll hinder the Project Team’s performance.

Start by reviewing where any bottlenecks could occur and determine if there’s a way to expand the channels the communications must transit. Can additional personnel be assigned to the task of processing these data transfer activities? Is there the potential to leverage technology to streamline activities, such as a document routing system or automated approval levels for certain items?

If these aren’t feasible, is it possible to restructure the workflow so the limited point(s) of contact are able to prioritize handling communications as soon as they come through? More closely monitoring and managing the traffic may be the best solution to ensure everything continues to move smoothly.

Examine where vendors provide crucial data, materials, or other resources. In many cases, vendor and contractor interactions have the potential to become a bottleneck only because the relationships between the Project Team and its external partners often have a fair bit of necessary structure around them. Not only must information and data assets travel through filters on the vendor’s side of the channel before it touches the project office, they must also typically be transitioned into the Project Team via a limited conduit.

This may also be the case when an external partner provides materials or personnel for a project. Because procurement of those assets needs to be coordinated outside the Project Team before they can be inserted into the project workflow, it’s not an uncommon place for bottlenecks to occur. Project management teams that rely on outside collaborators for critical-path resources need to be mindful of where the process can stall.

Careful coordination may be the best route in maintaining forward progress. Make it a priority to complete any necessary preparations internally—paperwork, possibly even user training—before assets arrive from outside, so there are fewer steps that need to be tackled. In addition, the team must be diligent in setting clear expectations between vendors, others on the project team, sponsors, and end users. This will ensure there are fewer questions and less potential for last-minute negotiations or pushback that could interrupt the timely deployment of resources.