Understanding Cycle Time
What is it?
Cycle Time is the total elapsed time it takes a work item to travel from one point of your workflow (a start point) to another point (the finish point). You can measure Cycle Times from various start and end points within a single workflow, for example, you can measure the Cycle Time through the entire workflow or the cycle time for a particular stage in the workflow.
Cycle Time is only measured for a work item once it has reached a finish point. This means it is only measured for finished items and is a lagging metric – one based on historical data.
As Cycle Time includes the total elapsed time, that means it includes active working time as well any time that a work item is sitting there idle. So, whether work is waiting on someone, you’re blocked by a technical issue, or being interrupted by evenings and weekends, the time is included in an item’s Cycle Time.
Sometimes people are already visualizing their workflow so that wait time and work time are largely separated as in the image below:
However, that is not required to capture Cycle Time. You just need to have the point at which you consider something started and finished to be clearly defined.
What chart should I use?
The Cycle Time Scatterplot is, hands down, the best chart to use for analyzing Cycle Time. This is because Cycle Time is a time-based metric and it is time based data in a time-series display. This allows you to see patterns in your Cycle Time over time. There is information in the Cycle Time Scatterplot that you are not able to discern from a Cycle Time Histogram.
Why measure it?
Looking at Cycle Time via the Cycle Time Scatterplot helps us see how predictable we are in terms of how long it takes to complete individual items and we can see how this predictability is changing over time.
While measuring Cycle Time allows us to see how long it takes us to finish individual work items, looking at Cycle Time for a group of work items allows us to set an expectation as to how likely it is that we will finish future work in a given time range once started.
Quickly looking at a Cycle Time Scatterplot chart above, in which each dot represents the Cycle Time of a given work item, we can easily say that we finish 95% of these work items in 23 days or less. This type of forecasting is reliable and extremely quick, allowing us to spend time on what’s truly valuable – doing the actual work.
A great metric to start with
Cycle Time is often the first flow metric that teams attempt and it is very easy to track — even by hand! All you need is to write down the start date and the end date of a work item and you can plot a dot on this chart once it is done.
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