Cycle Time in Software Development: Why Is It Important & How To Calculate It?

Cycle time is an essential metric that helps businesses determine the efficiency and effectiveness of their processes. It refers to the time it takes to complete a single process, from start to finish. Measuring and improving cycle time is crucial for companies that want to streamline their operations, reduce costs, and enhance customer satisfaction. In this article, we will explore the concept of cycle time in more detail and provide practical tips on how to measure and improve it. We will also discuss the benefits of reducing cycle time and the potential pitfalls to avoid.

What is cycle time?

Cycle time refers to the complete duration that a team spends working on a project to create goods or services, from the start of the project to its conclusion. This term can be employed to quantify projects associated with product creation and design. Below are a few instances that illustrate the applicability of cycle time in diverse industries.

Retail: Cycle times can be utilized by stores to gauge the duration required for producing each item present in their inventory.

Software development: Technology experts rely on cycle time to monitor software development projects, as it enables them to determine the typical duration required to complete a project.

Restaurants: Restaurants can derive advantages from cycle times as they enable managers to monitor the duration it takes for a customer to be served their food.

Financial industry: Cycle times can be beneficial for restaurants because they allow managers to keep track of how long it takes for a customer to receive their food, which can provide advantages.

Benefits of calculating cycle time

The following are some reasons why businesses should consider cycle time as an essential tool:

Measures efficiency: The utilization of cycle time permits teams to gauge the effectiveness of their project completion. If the cycle time is lengthy, it could suggest that the teams are not operating as efficiently as they could be.

Identifies areas of improvement: Cycle times are useful in identifying the areas within a company's operations that can be streamlined to boost sales and decrease the production time of a product.

Shows productivity: Cycle time enables businesses to assess the number of items they have manufactured during a particular timeframe and the effectiveness of their production processes. By measuring cycle time, companies can evaluate their production efficiency and determine whether improvements are necessary.

How to calculate cycle time?

The measurement of cycle time in software development can vary based on the specific requirements of the development team and the development methodology employed. Some commonly employed methods of measuring cycle time include:

1. Find the net production time

To determine the cycle time, the initial step is to identify the net production time, which refers to the duration that a team has to complete a project, usually in hours. This method allows businesses to consider both the actual production time and any time spent on delays or other processes during production operations.

To calculate the net production time, deduct any time spent by your team away from the project, such as lunch breaks or meetings, from the total duration your team spends at the worksite daily.

For instance, suppose a team devotes 10 hours to non-project-related activities, and they are allotted 40 hours to actively work on a particular project. In that case, the net production time for that project can be calculated by subtracting the non-project hours from the total working hours: 40 hours - 10 hours = 30 hours in total.

2. Calculate the total number of goods produced

Afterward, tally the number of items in your stock that were created throughout the undertaking. As an illustration, an organization could enumerate the entirety of their inventory generated during the project and discover that it produced 200 items.

3. Perform division

Next, calculate the team's cycle time by dividing the net production time by the total quantity of goods manufactured. This computation will provide the value of your team's cycle time.

To illustrate, if the team's net production time is 80 hours and they produce a total of 320 goods, the computation will be as follows: 160/ 320 = 0.25.

4. Convert the value into a time

After obtaining the result, it is crucial to convert it into time units to indicate the duration required to finish a project. To do so, multiply the decimal part of the number by 60 to get the value in hours.

For instance, if the result of your calculation is 0.25, then you should multiply it by 60. The outcome will indicate that the cycle time is 15 minutes: 0.25 x 60 = 15 minutes.

5. Interpret results by comparing them to your target cycle time

After obtaining the outcomes of your cycle time calculations, it is crucial to interpret them correctly to comprehend your production times. The desired cycle time can fluctuate based on various factors, such as a company's objectives, workforce size, and employees' task completion duration.

6. Perform calculations routinely

Because cycle time can vary, it is crucial to conduct the calculations regularly. Regularly performing the computations guarantees the precision of your total cycle time and assists in improving your production procedures.

How Do You Reduce Cycle Time?

Begin a Process Map

A process map is a manual representation of the flow of a product, either in its finished state or as a part, as it passes through the various stages and individual workstations of a production process. Frequently, older procedures or manual data management result in inefficiencies, bottlenecks, waiting times, and other issues that are embedded in the system. By utilizing process mapping, teams can recognize and implement enhancements to their processes.

Calculate Existing Cycle Times

If you are unaware of your current position, it's impossible to determine where to go next. Even if the calculation is based on manual data, having an approximate cycle time as a reference point will provide a foundation for further improvement. This trend is associated with a company's overall equipment effectiveness (OEE). In companies where data is managed manually, the OEE is often overestimated, which is unfortunate.

Eliminate Waste

Once a process has been completely mapped out and the current cycle time is understood, teams can initiate efforts to eliminate inefficiencies that lead to low cycle times. Common types of inefficiencies that need to be addressed include

- Quality problems that go unnoticed until the completion of production or require rework to attain first quality.
- Excessive use of manual paperwork, travellers, or other documentation that is prone to errors.
- Non-value-added work.
- Overproduction or production in excess of demand.
- Underproduction, or production that is insufficient to meet demand.
- WIP staging, internal material transportation, or machine layout that hinders the production process.

Deploy Standard Work Documentation

After identifying problems and their underlying causes, and implementing an improvement process, it is crucial to ensure that the process adheres to the new standards and does not affect the cycle count.

Standard work is a set of documented guidelines that outline how tasks should be executed. It may consist of instructions on the sequence of tasks, movements, communication, and other standards that operators must follow. This documentation must be accessible to anyone performing the task and should be utilized to train new workers. This practice can aid in maintaining a low cycle time and preventing variations in the process.

Audit Machine Capacity

Manufacturers typically produce a wide range of finished goods or parts, varying in complexity from simple to intricate. These products are manufactured daily based on customer orders, and therefore it is essential to conduct machine capacity audits both in terms of absolute capacity and capacity against product complexity.

Is there enough machine capacity to create a schedule that accommodates a large order of the most intricate and time-consuming parts? Scheduling must be adaptable enough to anticipate such situations and establish production schedules that optimize the machine's capabilities based on the order requirements.


While cycle time provides valuable information about team performance and business success, it can be further optimized and leveraged by combining it with other data. For this, engineering teams should create a systematic approach to evaluate team performance that is aligned with the company's objectives and incorporates effective communication techniques.