Measuring Cycle Time, the Easy Way

If you have heard about Lean and Kanban software development, one thing you might be doing is measuring the cycle time for the cards in our project, meaning the time between when a card is started until it’s finally done.

I’ve been doing it for a while, and have tried a couple of ways to actually get the data so far, going from having a spreadsheet where I would keep all the dates when cards transitioned (very detailed and very complex to maintain) to the usual noting down those dates in the card itself (less complicated but still troublesome, since people would forget to write on the card when they moved it).

Since I’ve started my last project, Herry introduced me to a new way, which as most good ideas, is so simple and good that I wonder how I had never thought about it.

The way we have been doing now is using stickers to keep the count of the number of days a card has been on the board. Whenever it starts to get played, we apply one _put your favourite colours here_ sticker to it for every day it is in play until it’s done. We currently just have two states in our board (doing and accepting) so we have two different colours to track the days in each specific stage.

The reason I find it much simpler is because you don’t have the problem of getting dates wrong anymore, or have to remember to note things on cards when they move. The only action needed is to apply a sticker to every card being played after the standup.

6 comments
  1. Jen said:

    I remember hearing of a team that used a library date stamper : that has the benefit of not falling off the card too. We also did the sticker thing – was great at hilighting the amount of pinging to-and-fro between states but I don’t know as we ever used for measuring cycle times.

    My current project though has years of card-transition data but never really properly looked at it or used as a measure for improvement/predictability etc. Currently working on pulling that data out and making control charts with it. Started at a very small subset “Developer starts on it” to “Developer finishes working on it” as that is what the team currently tracks, but I hope to compare it to what I feel we *should* be measuring… hope

  2. toni said:

    last time I measured cycle times we just wrote when we started playing the card on the card.
    stickers are probably more visible…

  3. I had the same issue with scribbling start/finish dates, so I’ve just moved to just putting a tally of marks on the card, at stand up each morning. It seems to be working well -and low effort. I’m only measuring the elapsed time from kickoff to sign off, not breaking down into dev/test/blocked so the information is limited.

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  5. I was involved with a project that took a similar approach but using simple pen marks instead of stickers. The team used a “walk the board” style of stand-up, and the facilitator held a pen. As each card “spoke”, the facilitator marked it with the appropriate symbol: A star meant a day in analysis, a vertical line was a day in development, a circle was a day of dedicated testing.

    The pen marks didn’t look as pretty as the stickers, but it was lightweight enough that the marks were always updated. There was always a pen handy and it never took very long.

  6. @Jen & @Toni – yes, the date stamper is another common alternative that I used in the past. The benefit of the stickers (or pen marks as @rjhunter suggested) is that you can create a ritual to add them during the standup, instead of having to remember to add dates every time you move cards.

    Thank you all for your comments!

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