Cycle time

What is cycle time?

Cycle time is a metric used in software engineering to measure the average time it takes for a work item, such as a feature or a bug fix, to go from the initial code commit to being released into production. This metric specifically tracks the amount of active work time and excludes any idle time when the task is not actively being worked on. To calculate cycle time, you start the clock when the code is first committed to a version control system and stop it when the code is successfully deployed to production. The difference between these two timestamps gives you the cycle time. This calculation helps teams understand how efficiently they are producing work and highlights areas where the process may be improved.

Why is cycle time important?

Improves delivery predictability. By tracking and analyzing cycle time, teams can predict future project timelines more accurately. This predictability is crucial for planning and setting realistic expectations with stakeholders, including clients and team members. Understanding how long it takes on average to complete different types of tasks allows managers to forecast delivery dates with higher confidence.

Enhances process efficiency. Monitoring cycle time helps identify bottlenecks and inefficiencies within the development process. Teams can see where delays typically occur, whether in coding, testing, approval stages, or deployment. By addressing these delays and streamlining the process, organizations can reduce cycle time, thus increasing the throughput of their development pipeline and enabling them to deliver features faster.

Boosts customer satisfaction. Shorter cycle times often lead to faster feature releases, which can significantly enhance customer satisfaction. Customers benefit from quicker updates and improvements, keeping the product competitive and relevant. Additionally, the ability to quickly push fixes and updates in response to customer feedback can dramatically improve the customer experience and loyalty.

What are the limitations of cycle time?

Does not measure quality. Cycle time focuses solely on the speed of delivery from commit to release. It does not account for the quality of the output. A short cycle time might lead to frequent releases, but without considering the quality, this can result in software that is buggy or fails to meet user expectations, potentially leading to higher costs associated with fixes and customer dissatisfaction.

Vulnerable to external factors. Cycle time can be influenced by external factors that may not necessarily reflect the team's efficiency or effectiveness. For example, dependencies on third-party services, system outages, or varying team availability (like during holidays or employee sick leaves) can artificially inflate the cycle time, leading to misinterpretations of the team's performance.

Focuses on a narrow aspect of the development process. While cycle time offers valuable insights into the speed of software delivery, it represents only a fraction of the broader software development lifecycle. It does not provide insights into the planning or post-deployment phases, such as how quickly a team responds to and resolves issues in production, which are also critical to overall success.

Metrics related to cycle time

Lead time. Lead time is closely related to cycle time but encompasses a broader time frame: from the moment a new feature is requested until it is delivered. While cycle time measures the time spent actively working on the feature, lead time includes all the preliminary activities such as requirement gathering, design, and waiting periods. Understanding both metrics helps in comprehensively analyzing the efficiency and responsiveness of the development process.

Deployment frequency. Deployment frequency measures how often an organization successfully releases to production. A higher deployment frequency often indicates a more efficient and streamlined cycle time, as it suggests that the team is capable of delivering increments of work more frequently. This metric is particularly useful in assessing the agility of the deployment process and its alignment with continuous delivery practices.

Wait time. Wait time refers to the periods when work items are idle and not actively being worked on. High wait times can significantly contribute to longer cycle times. By analyzing wait time alongside cycle time, teams can identify non-value-adding delays within the process and take steps to eliminate these inefficiencies, thereby improving the overall speed of delivery.

Start tracking your software development metrics

Connect your tools and visualize your data in minutes. When you sign up, you’ll get immediate access to your data. No demo or sales calls.