Cycle Time

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Cycle time is how long a project takes from starting the work to completion—when the project is ready for delivery. In Agile project management, this critical metric helps teams understand their level of efficiency.

This article explores the value and meaning of cycle time as a metric for teams to use as they improve their processes and performance.

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What is cycle time?

Agile is a dynamic methodology that helps teams develop more efficient and iterative processes. Rather than operate using continuous flow and operation or a measurement of return on investment (ROI) and objective standards, Agile incorporates both into a framework that measures what you deliver and how you deliver it.

Within this Agile system, cycle time measures how long a particular task takes. Team-level metrics—such as velocity—measure how projects progress, while cycle time measures how fast teams complete individual work items.

You can manually record the cycle time of a particular task or project or enter it automatically using a work management application like Workfront. When entered automatically, team members and managers can quickly and easily see the results of different projects, including how long it takes to accomplish them and the impact of changes and adjustments on time needed to complete a project.

How is cycle time measured?

You measure cycle time using typical calendar measurements. Teams typically record projects as taking a given number of days to complete. To begin measuring the cycle time for a particular project, mark the start of the project on the calendar. Then, when the project reaches its completion, mark the finish date.

Cycle time is often reported to project leaders or clients as an average. For example, producing a particular report might have an average cycle time of five business days.

Tracking cycle time: What this metric says about your team.

For organizations interested in improving the delivery of their products and services, incorporating the Agile framework and cycle time tracking can provide various benefits. The following sections will examine some of these benefits.

Erratic cycle times can indicate recurring barriers.

By monitoring cycle times, team members can see how well different projects are progressing. They can track progression, task completion, and see how they compare.

If the organization discovers that similar tasks have wildly different cycle times, this erratic cycle information can indicate potential barriers to address. For example, bottlenecking at a particular point in the process can pop up intermittently. However, since the bottleneck does not occur every time, it might be harder to identify without the cycle timing, which points to a recurring problem.

When the team uncovers these types of barriers, they can break down the obstacles and develop a strategy that will improve overall efficiency and reliability.

Cycle time differences might indicate skills gaps.

If the completion of similar projects by different workers have vastly different cycle times, that can indicate a gap in experience. A skills gap can easily result in projects taking longer for certain team members, but you can address this type of problem with proper training.

Taking the time to train employees to fill in skills gaps can improve an organization’s efficiency and productivity by allowing each member of the team to maximize their potential at work.

Cycle time averages can improve planning and projections.

As the company collects data and information about the cycle times used across various projects, it can help them better plan for future projects. For example, if the team member in charge of building a website module finds that it takes an average of seven business days to complete their part of the project, the team can adequately plan for this schedule.

Without knowing cycle time averages and how long teams should anticipate for particular portions of the project, you may create unrealistic and unattainable schedules, projections, and goals. Setting poor goals can cause unnecessary stress, projects that regularly fall behind schedule, and lead to disappointment and frustration from the organization and any clients who anticipated receiving the deliverables.

Businesses can compile data-based estimates and schedules based on similar projects completed in the past and move forward confidently on their new tasks. Stakeholders and team members will begin the project with reasonable expectations.

Cycle time can provide immediate feedback on implemented changes.

Since cycle times are tracked quickly and on an individual level, they also provide people with an excellent source of data on the impact of changes.

Consider a team that analyzes its cycle times and uncovers a critical skills gap. To counter this problem, the team put together training sessions for those involved. The team leader can then immediately watch the cycle time data that comes in once the employees have finished their training and returned to their project work.

These new cycle times will make it clearer whether the training benefited the employees. The team leader can monitor the progress over the next several projects to see how the averages improve and use that to provide an accurate report on the team. If cycle times do not improve, the leader can determine if something other than training can solve the problem.

Since the cycle between implementing changes and measuring the results is short, it also becomes easier for teams to make rapid improvements. They do not have to wait extended amounts of time to see the impact of their efforts to improve performance, which also maximizes efficiency. They waste less time on solutions that do not achieve the desired results.

It is easier to stay ahead of the competition.

Staying ahead of the competition revolves around remaining in tune with the needs of the consumer base and producing products and services that excel in meeting those needs. Tracking the cycle time for the products and services produced can help meet that goal.

When businesses monitor their cycle times and find ways to reduce them, they also get their products to customers faster and more efficiently. They shorten the time between the conception and brainstorming of the product, the beginning of the product development, and the delivery of the final creation. This helps to keep organizations more in tune with the needs of customers.

The products you produce will get to the customer faster, edging out the competition. The feedback loop, which provides information about customers’ opinions on the product and what they need moving forward, also shortens. Altogether, this gives your organization an advantage over the competition.

Cycle time can reduce the problems often facing the development team.

Developers do their jobs best when their ideas are produced quickly, and they can see how customers react to the creation. Shrinking the feedback loop between the customers and the organization helps remove barriers from development processes. A clearer picture forms regarding what customers want to see and experience. The development team will now find it easier to move forward with new projects and maximize their productivity.

Cycle time conclusions: Reducing and reassessing.

When it comes to monitoring your team’s progress, tracking cycle times can be a great place to start. By looking at granular-level information regarding team members’ progress on their projects, the entire group gains valuable information about their work as a whole. This, in turn, shows how the team can improve its performance and offers an easy way to track success. Teams improve their ability to pivot to consumer needs and provide them with trusted products.