Progress is easy to visualize when we use the yardstick of calendar time. My wife and I spent 17 days in Europe. There are 197 shopping days until Christmas (as of June 12, 2018) — I expect presents this year. How long it takes to deliver a piece of work, in days, is something nearly every human can understand. Over the past few months, I have been cataloging questions I have heard. Well over 70% of work-related questions center on how long a piece of work will take and whether the answer to that question has value. Cycle time metrics are ways to generate answers to ‘how long’ questions in a manner that is valuable and predictable.

When considering cycle time metrics, there are many positives. They:

  1. Are based on a measure everyone understands;
  2. Are easy to collect and calculate;
  3. Have predictive power, and 
  4. Are method agnostic.

Unfortunately, there are a few negatives:

  1. Everyone needs to agree when we start and end counting days.
  2. Days are not precise.

We define two different, but simple, cycle time measures from the point of view of two very different classes of users, starting with product management.

Product Management:

Product management roles are responsible for product strategy including when features come to market.  Calendar time is important in this role! Product management generally has profit and loss responsibility. Much like the sales function, calendar time for product management is money. A powerful cycle time metric supporting product management is concept to cash. Concept to cash is defined as the number of days from qualifying an idea and placing it on the backlog until delivering the idea to the market (or at until enough of the idea to declare victory – minimum viable product).

Simple example: Cagley Construction (my brother) signs an agreement to build a custom home on June 1, 2017. Given that he lives in Louisiana and has to dodge hurricane and summer storms there are often slight delays due to weather. The clients took possession and my brother got his final check on September 30, 2017. Concept to cash is 121 days. The measure is easy to calculate; at worst someone can count the days on a paper calendar.

Harder example: A tax software firm identified the need to revamp their current tax platform; create a next generation of the software. Product management placed the idea on the backlog on November 1, 2014. As with most huge projects, things did not go exactly to plan. Instead of the whole product suite, the organization delivered a minimum viable product on November 1, 2016 (due to the market interim deliveries of new functions to the market are not valuable). The organization is working on further releases that are required to complete the “whole” next generation product. In absolute terms, the concept to cash cannot be calculated because the whole product is not done. In this case, the firm measured to Concept-to-minimum viable product (MVP).

Variations:

  •    Concept to MVP
  •    Concept to Production (when the software is not sold).

Delivery Teams

Delivery teams design, code, test and implement functional, technical and non-functional needs to solve problems. Teams tend to have a more short-term time horizon, focusing on an iteration or a release. Cycle time for units of work (stories for example) is a useful tool for planning and tracking work. Cycle time is the amount of time beginning the moment a team pulls a piece of work into their queue until the day it production ready (or implemented).

Simple example: A team pulls a story to code and deliver a data extract on June 1st. The team completes the work on June 5th (done: coded, tested, and installed in production). Cycle time is 5 days.

Harder example: The team pulls a story to insert extra ads into an organization’s checkout process on April 1st. In course of human events, higher priority work appears and the story is put on hold for part of April and May, but finally delivered to production on June 5th. The cycle time is 65 days. Many measurement specialists will stop the clock while the work is on hold. One downside of stopping the clock is to hide the impact of expediting work.

Variations:

  •    Work Time (Cycle time without wait time)

Cycle time metrics provide a framework to discuss “when” and how reliable organizations are when discussion delivery.