Lead time is a crucial metric for project managers and other professionals in multiple industries. Shortening lead time in the right way—so that costs do not skyrocket—can increase an organization’s profitability and customer satisfaction. This article will explain lead time in more depth and show how you can decrease it.
What is lead time?
Lead time is the time between when a project commences and when your team completes it. The term is used in almost every industry, however, for project management, lead time carries additional significance. Effective time management allows everyone involved in a project to have more time to deliver and lowers stress levels as they do their jobs.
When calculating lead time, you must include every moment from the time a project starts until its completion—whether delivered to a specific client or the market as a whole. The longer the lead time, the longer it takes to deliver your project. This can result in rising costs, client dissatisfaction as they wait, and more.
Managing lead time: Important implications.
The ability to effectively manage lead time and reduce it whenever possible has big impacts for teams. In addition to more effectively managing resources and team members’ time, reducing lead time can also mean an improved bottom line and a larger capacity to take on new and challenging projects.
It does not take much to throw off a project’s lead time—and a delay at one step can lead to compounding delays as you continue down the road to completion, causing a nightmare for you, your client, and your team. Without proper project planning, teams often find themselves rushing and sacrificing quality to complete a project on time.
With effective planning and streamlining, you can improve your lead time and keep your clients satisfied and returning to you rather than seeking an alternative. Effective time management can have positive impacts on your team and lead to lower turnover, as well as:
- Lower levels of stress
- Improved proficiency
- More opportunities to learn and overcome challenges
- Less risk of mistakes
Reducing lead time: How to expedite effectively.
You should reduce the lead time for your team, but it is essential to do it right and avoid costly errors. Below are a few tips for you and your team to consider.
Perform steps simultaneously when possible.
You may not be able to eliminate any steps to complete a project. However, you might be able to complete steps at the same time instead of sequentially. If you can do steps three and five at the same time without stretching your team or resources too thin, you will reach completion faster.
Improve (or eliminate) handoffs between teams.
Frequent handoffs are where you see the most delays in a project. The new team is not ready to start on their part of the project due to other projects being first in line, or there is a miscommunication between teams. Consider giving one team all the resources it needs to move forward and make decisions for the entire project so things keep moving forward as quickly as possible.
Multitasking may seem normal within an organization, but it can often lead to unintended delays. The more in-progress projects a team or team member has to work with, the longer the line becomes for waiting projects. Instead, try to limit the number of projects a single team works on at one time.
Increase capacity in your organization.
You can do this in a couple of ways. By adding more people to your team, you can decrease the amount of time a project sits before someone has time to work on it. You can also increase capacity by choosing the right technologies to make the work faster and less burdensome to your employees.
Effectively use a buffer.
You are probably familiar with the idea of a buffer—an extra cushion of time to under-promise and over-deliver. Where you put the buffer, though, may make all the difference in your project.
Instead of adding a buffer of time at the end of each step, add a buffer at the end of the overall project, called the project buffer. Doing this, in conjunction with other lead time gains, will allow you to protect the entire project instead of focusing on protecting specific tasks.
Standardize your operations.
Come up with a set of standard operations, and document it thoroughly. Doing so will help your teams know what to do and how to do it, which reduces the amount of time and resources spent fixing mistakes.
Know and manage your project’s critical path.
What are the tasks on your project that must happen in a certain order? Those steps create the critical path for your project and the places where your project is most likely to be delayed. Make sure you are keeping a close eye on each of those steps and the handoffs if necessary.
Set clear expectations.
Sometimes, the client causes delays by requesting changes. When that happens, delays are often unavoidable but can still cause pressure to mount. Before beginning a project, let the client know that any changes requested may cause delays.
Delivering speed and quality simultaneously.
Understanding the lead time of a project is an integral part of a project manager’s job. However, reducing the lead time must be done the right way, or you risk costly increases and team member burnout. Ensuring that a project has the least amount of lead time possible keeps clients, team members, and owners happy with the results.