Cycle Time

What is Cycle Time?

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). This means that, depending on how you define start and finish for your context, you can measure the Cycle Time for a whole process or just a portion of it.

Calculating Cycle Time

Cycle Time is often expressed as:

(Finish Date – Start Date) + 1

The plus one includes both the start date and the finish date in the cycle time.

Cycle time is the total elapsed time it took from start to finish. This 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.

Work time and wait time
Cycle Time is made up of work time and wait time
partial workflow on a Kanban board
Sometimes teams visualize work time and wait time. It is all included in Cycle Time.

Cycle Time cannot be calculated for a work item until it has reached your designated finish point. This means it is a lagging metric – one based on historical data.

It is best to speak in the terms of your customer. They think in calendar days and not business days so we calculate cycle time in calendar days and not business days. It reduces misunderstandings.

Julia Wester, Co-Founder @ 55 Degrees AB

Why measure Cycle Time?

Looking at the Cycle Time Scatterplot helps us see how predictable we are. More predictable teams see more condensed dot patterns than less predictable teams. The time axis lets us track our progress over time.

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.

Cycle Time Scatterplot in ActionableAgile
Cycle Time Scatterplot chart from ActionableAgile Analytics

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.

Cycle Time Charts in ActionableAgile

There are two Cycle Time charts available in ActionableAgile: a scatterplot and a histogram.


The Cycle Time Histogram is a bar chart that displays how often your work items experience certain cycle times – in other words, the frequency of cycle times.

Cycle Time Histogram in ActionableAgile Analytics


The Cycle Time Scatterplot is, hands down, the best chart to use for analyzing Cycle Time because of the time axis. We believe that all time-based metrics are best analyzed on a time-based chart. This allows you to see patterns in your data and ask questions to learn more about how your team worked and why. You cannot discern this pattern-based information in a Histogram.

Cycle Time Scatterplot chart from ActionableAgile Analytics

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.

Interested in tracking flow metrics like this one? Try out ActionableAgile for free and reach out if you’re interested in joining our customer success program!

About The Author

Julia Wester

Co-Founder of 55 Degrees AB We help you get more done with less stress. Home of ActionableAgile Analytics, Portfolio Forecaster and more!

4 thoughts on “What is Cycle Time?

  1. […] elapsed time since the work item started. Work Item Age is one of four key flow metrics along with Cycle Time, Throughput, and WIP (aka work in […]

  2. […] WIP over time. By seeing how your WIP levels change, you can get early signals of likely changes in Cycle Time and […]

  3. […] often start looking at Throughput around the same time they begin looking at Cycle Time, WIP, and WIP Age. Focusing on building stability in these key flow metrics is a good start. The […]

  4. […] that all tools measure the cumulative time an items spends in a particular workflow stage for Cycle Time. Some do, some don’t. ActionableAgile doesn’t and that’s on purpose! What do we […]

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