Opening an article with a quote of myself might be a sign of bad taste, but it’s such a good quote and I just can’t resist 🙂
There are a million definitions of what Lead/Cycle time means, so you may want to go out there and search for the source of heavenly truth, but our definitions are very simple: Cycle time is the time you need to complete something you’ve started working on and Lead time is the time between the customer request and the delivery date. Let’s take an online store, for example. The Lead time would be the time between the placement of the order and the time the product is delivered (the overall time). Each phase of the process would have a separate cycle time (cycle time of the processing of the order, cycle time of the packaging of the product, cycle time of the shipping, etc.).
Here at Kanbanize, we value this chart. We value it a lot! Not only because it’s fancy, but because it gives us so much information. The goal of this article is to teach you how to interpret this chart and help yourself on the way to becoming a productivity Jedi.
Let’s start from the basics. This is a stacked bar chart. Each bar represents time and, more concretely, how much time the task has spent in a given state. The different colors represent the different states in which the task has been throughout its life-cycle. The higher the bar, the longer the task has been worked on.
If you have not grasped what the chart represents, go back and re-read the previous paragraph as many times as needed. Only then will you truly understand the value of this chart.
In the example Cycle Time chart below, the Done column has been switched off and is not visualized. We remove Done from the visualization because we don’t care how much time tasks have spent there and here we’re talking about the Cycle Time of our Requested and In Progress cards.
Our eyes immediately fall onto the six tasks that have taken much more time compared to the others.
And here comes the first great benefit of the Cycle time chart:
You can detect tasks that are taking too long with just a single glance. Moreover, you can click on the bar representing the task, which will open its details and you can easily check what has been done, who is involved and so on.
Some people would say that switching off the done column is an unnecessary step and they would be right. That is why we provide the option to configure which steps are accounted for when cycle time is calculated and which are not.
If you go to “Project Settings” → “Manage Boards” you would see the “Configure Cycle Time” button. There you can uncheck some of the columns and, by doing this, exclude them from the cycle time chart. This is very useful because it guarantees that you will only measure what you really want to see.
The eagle-eyed reader should have noticed the dotted black line which goes from left to right. This line represents the average cycle time for all tasks currently displayed, ordered by ID. This line is extremely valuable because it shows whether you are improving or not.
If the line goes down, then you are reducing your cycle time, which most probably results in faster delivery and happy customers. On the other hand, if it goes up, then you should probably pay more attention to your team/company and start asking questions.
The second great benefit of the Cycle time chart:
This chart shows you how cycle time changes over time. A simple look at the dotted line speaks more than a thousand words and gives you a better idea of how business is doing than a dozen hundred-page-reports.
This is an example of a very very good (and real) cycle time chart (average cycle time reduced from 43 days to 4 days).
We wish you to achieve even more than what we’ve done ourselves.