How to Calculate Cycle Time

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Time is a critical resource in every work environment that determines how people and processes interact. It’s also a key element of engineering efficiency and productivity, so tracking it is on top of every managers’ priority list.

On the other hand, cycle time is a common project management term, often used by managers to gauge the speed at which work is done or delivered. If you have teams working on different tasks or those collaborating on projects, you can track their progress using a project management tool.

When this is done right, you can measure the time it takes team members to begin working on projects up to the time they deliver finished tasks. This time is referred to as the average cycle time.

Below, we will learn how to calculate cycle time and its importance, but first, let’s see how it relates to software development.

Table of Contents

What is Cycle Time in Software Development?

Cycle time is a concept borrowed from lean manufacturing; its meaning originates from a modern production floor. The production cycle time would depend on several factors in a typical manufacturing environment.

These would include the arrival time of raw materials and the amount of time it takes for these materials to undergo processing, quality control, all the way to packaging. Any delays along the way will impact the subsequent production processes, increasing the net production time.

When this concept is applied to the software development world, it doesn’t lose its meaning or significance. Here, software development cycle time refers to the time it takes from the moment a software project begins to when the final product is delivered. In other words, it’s the period of time between the first commit and the release to production.

Cycle time can measure the end-to-end development process or be broken into sections relevant to the project in question. For instance, at LinearB, we measure coding time, pull request pick time, review time, and deployment time individually, as well as combine these four as part of the total cycle time formula.

How to Calculate Cycle Time

When calculating software development cycle time, you cannot just look at the total time it takes to deliver a product. It’s possible to estimate this metric based on past data, but several factors can affect the progress of a project in real-time.

And the key to improving engineering efficiency is deeply understanding your cycle time. Let’s look at each of the four phases of cycle time:

  • Coding Time: We calculate coding time from first commit to when a pull request or merge request is created.
  • Pickup Time: We calculate pickup time from when the PR is created to when the review begins.
  • Review Time: We calculate review time from the start of the review to when the code is merged.
  • Deploy Time: We calculate deploy time from when the code is merged to when it is released.

You should then look at your cycle time phases in various ways: at the organization level, by team, by iteration, and even as deeply as a specific branch. For example, if the average review time for this iteration is 40 hours, you’d want to know which specific branches are above this average to determine how to help your team remediate these bottlenecks and move these reviews through the pipeline.

Measure Your Team's Cycle Time in Minutes. Break down your team’s cycle time in 4 phases for bottleneck detection in seconds. 
Get context in one click and dive into any of your cycle time metrics to discover which branch is behind the spike. 
Diving into your data has never been this easy!

What is a Good Cycle Time?

Once you’ve calculated your cycle time and the four cycle time phases, how do you know where you’re doing well and which area needs the most focus? Our data science team at LinearB studied nearly 2,000 engineering teams to develop a set of engineering benchmarks, including cycle time.

Engineering Benchmarks Chart
Want to learn more about being an elite engineering team? Check out this blog detailing our engineering benchmarks study and methodology.

Let’s look back at the first image of cycle time we shared. If your average cycle time is 6 days and 2 hours, your software development lifecycle needs focus! This means that there are serious bottlenecks throughout the software development journey. And it stands out that your 5-day review time is the most problematic.

Perhaps one member of the team is out sick and forgot to reassign a pull request. Perhaps two of your team members are struggling to come to an agreement on a code review and need mediation. These are actionable items that you can help with once you dive into the data to understand which specific branches are causing the delays.

Improving Your Engineering Team’s Cycle Time

Once you know how to calculate your cycle time, you need to adopt this metric as part of your operational strategy. When implemented correctly, this can be the difference between happy and disappointed customers or engaged employees and frustrated managers.

That said, keeping track of your software development cycle time requires more than just awareness. You need the right tools and processes for improving engineering efficiency. This is where LinearB uses automation to streamline workflow optimization.

We recommend setting quarterly KPIs using our Team Goals product and enabling our WorkerB bot to warn your team members when they need to course-correct certain behaviors that aren’t meeting the established team goals.

set goals

All of our Team Goals are customizable to your needs, and WorkerB notifications can be integrated with both Slack and MS Teams. We’d love the chance to show you how you can improve your engineering efficiency with LinearB. Book a demo today and get started with a free trial.

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