Skip to main content
  1. Learn
  2. Project management
  3. Posts
  4. ​​Use the cycle time formula to achieve your greatest production speed

​​Use the cycle time formula to achieve your greatest production speed

PostsProject management
Georgina Guthrie

Georgina Guthrie

March 01, 2023

It’s a cliche, but something in the adage ‘time is money’ holds true. In the fast-paced world of business, time is of the essence. Every minute counts, and delivering products or services quickly and efficiently can be the key to success. Enter: the cycle time formula.

Like a relay race, where a team passes a baton from person to person to complete a race as quickly as possible, the cycle time forumula measures the time it takes to complete a specific process from start to finish. It’s a crucial metric that businesses use to evaluate and improve their operations.

In this article, we’ll dive into the concept of cycle time and explore how it can be applied to real-world business scenarios, helping you to optimize operations and get ahead of the competition.

What is cycle time?

Cycle time is the time it takes to complete a specific process from beginning to end. It’s a key metric in process improvement, as it helps businesses identify and eliminate inefficiencies, reduce costs, and improve overall performance.

Let’s consider an example from the manufacturing industry. 

Imagine a company that produces dolls. The production process includes several steps: molding, trimming, painting, and packaging. Each step has a cycle time, the time it takes to complete that particular step. The total cycle time of the process is the sum of the individual cycle times of each step.

For instance, let’s assume that the molding step takes 10 minutes, trimming takes 5 minutes, painting takes 8 minutes, and packaging takes 2 minutes. The total cycle time for the doll production process would be 25 minutes (10+5+8+2). This means that it takes 25 minutes to produce one doll from start to finish.

Cycle time isn’t just for manufacturing, though. 

In a service industry, such as a call center, the cycle time is the time it takes to handle a customer call from the moment it is received until it is resolved. For example, suppose the cycle time for handling a customer complaint is 10 minutes. In that case, it takes 10 minutes to resolve the complaint from when the customer initiates the call until the issue is resolved.

The benefits of calculating cycle time

Measuring and tracking cycle time is essential for businesses to identify bottlenecks, inefficiencies, and areas for improvement. By reducing cycle time, companies can produce more products or provide more services in the same amount of time, resulting in increased productivity, reduced costs, and higher customer satisfaction.

Here are some of the key benefits:

1. Identify bottlenecks and inefficiencies

By analyzing the cycle times of each step in the process, companies can pinpoint areas that are causing delays and take steps to improve efficiency.

For example, a company that produces custom furniture may discover the sanding process is taking longer than expected, causing delays. By analyzing the cycle time for sanding, the company can identify the root cause of the problem and take steps to improve efficiency, such as investing in better sanding equipment or providing additional training to employees.

2. Improve customer satisfaction

No one likes delays. By reducing the time it takes to process orders, companies can provide a better customer experience, increase customer loyalty, and sell more products. Win-win! 

3. Increase agility and responsiveness

Markets change, and fast-paced industries like fashion need to be on their A-game when it comes to responsiveness. Measuring and tracking cycle time can help businesses become more agile. 

Cycle time vs. lead time vs. takt time

Cycle time, lead time, and takt time are all essential concepts in manufacturing and operations management, but they refer to different aspects of production processes. 

Here’s a breakdown of what each term means and how they differ:

  1. Cycle time refers to the time it takes to complete one cycle of a process or operation from start to finish. For example, if a production line can manufacture 100 units in an hour, then the cycle time for each unit is 36 seconds (60 minutes divided by 100 units). Cycle time measures the efficiency of a production process and can be used to identify areas for improvement. 
  1. Lead time refers to the time it takes to complete a customer’s order, from when the order is placed to when it is delivered. It includes all the steps in the production process and any transportation or delivery time. For example, if a customer orders a custom-made product that takes two weeks to produce and three days to ship, the lead time for that order is two weeks and three days. Lead time is important because it determines how long customers wait for their orders and can impact customer satisfaction.
  1. Takt time is the rate at which products must be produced to meet customer demand. It is calculated by dividing the available production time by the number of units that need to be produced in that period. For example, if a company has eight hours of production time and needs to produce 400 units, the takt time is one unit every 72 seconds (8 hours x 60 minutes/hour = 480 minutes, 480 minutes divided by 400 units = 72 seconds). Takt time helps companies ensure they produce enough products to meet demand without overproducing, which can lead to waste.

Cycle time, lead time, and takt time in action

Let’s consider a real-world example to understand better the relationship between cycle time, lead time, and takt time. 

Imagine a factory that produces 1,000 cars per day, with a cycle time of 1 hour per car and a lead time of 5 days. The factory has a takt time of 4.8 minutes per car (480 minutes of available production time divided by 1,000 widgets).

It could take several approaches if the factory wants to improve its efficiency and reduce lead time. 

For example, it could reduce cycle time by investing in faster machinery or reorganizing its production process. Alternatively, it could reduce non-value-added activities, such as waiting for materials or shipping delays, which contribute to lead time. 

The factory can also optimize its takt time by synchronizing production with customer demand. If customer demand increases, the factory can adjust its production rate to meet that demand, thereby reducing the risk of overproduction and waste.

How do you calculate cycle time?

Calculating cycle time involves measuring the time it takes to complete a single process or task within a larger production cycle. To calculate cycle time, you need the start and end time of the process and the number of units produced in that time.

Here’s a step-by-step guide to calculating cycle time:

Step 1: Define the process

Identify the process or task that you want to measure. This could be a manufacturing process, a customer service interaction, or another business process.

Step 2: Gather data

Collect data on the start and end time of the process and the number of units produced in that time. This data can be obtained through observation or by analyzing historical data.

Step 3: Calculate using the cycle time formula 

To calculate cycle time, use the following formula:

Cycle Time = Total Production Time / Number of Units Produced

In this formula, “Total Production Time” refers to the time it takes to complete the process from start to finish. This includes any setup time, processing time, and downtime. 

“Number of Units Produced” refers to the total number of units produced during that time. For example, let’s say a manufacturing process took 10 hours to produce 100 units. The cycle time for this process would be:

Cycle Time = 10 hours / 100 units

Cycle Time = 0.1 hours per unit or 6 minutes per unit

Step 4: Analyze the Results

Once you’ve calculated the cycle time, analyze the results to identify opportunities for improvement. That’s all there is to it! 

Tips for using the cycle time formula

  • Use a timer or stopwatch to accurately measure the start and end time of the process, or invest in project management tools to collect long-term data.
  • Be consistent in your measurements to ensure accurate results.
  • Gather data on multiple cycles to get a more accurate average cycle time.
  • Use software or automation tools to streamline data collection and make calculations easier.

Using the cycle time formula in different settings

Here are some examples of how to use the cycle time formula in a range of settings. 

Manufacturing and production 

In a manufacturing setting, cycle time refers to the time it takes to produce one product unit. 

To calculate cycle time in a manufacturing setting, you need to measure the time it takes for a product to move through the manufacturing process, from raw materials to finished products.

For example, suppose a manufacturer produces 1,000 widgets daily, and the production process takes 8 hours. The cycle time for each widget can be calculated as follows:

Production Time / Number of Units = Cycle Time

8 hours / 1,000 widgets = 0.008 hours or 28.8 seconds

This means that each widget takes an average of 28.8 seconds to produce.

Delivery Services

In a delivery service setting, cycle time refers to the time it takes to complete one delivery cycle, from when an order is placed to when it is delivered to the customer.

For example, suppose a delivery service completes 100 deliveries per day, and the delivery process takes 8 hours. The cycle time for each delivery can be calculated as follows:

Delivery Time / Number of Deliveries = Cycle Time

8 hours / 100 deliveries = 0.08 hours or 4.8 minutes

This means that each delivery takes an average of 4.8 minutes to complete.

Professional services

In a professional services setting, cycle time can refer to the time it takes to complete a specific task or project, such as completing a client engagement.

For example, suppose a consulting firm completes 20 client engagements per month, and the engagement process takes 40 hours. The cycle time for each engagement can be calculated as follows:

Engagement Time / Number of Engagements = Cycle Time

40 hours / 20 engagements = 2 hours

This means that each engagement takes an average of 2 hours to complete.

The challenges of calculating cycle time

Here are some of the most common challenges and tips on how to overcome them:

Challenge 1: Inconsistent data collection

Without consistent data, it’s impossible to get an accurate picture of the cycle time for a process.

Tip: Establish clear procedures for data collection and train employees on these procedures. Use automation tools or software to reduce the risk of human error in data collection.

Challenge 2: Complex processes

In some cases, the process being measured may be complex or involve multiple steps, making it difficult to determine the start and end time of the cycle.

Tip: Break down the process into smaller, more manageable steps, and measure the cycle time for each step individually. This can help identify areas where improvements can be made and optimize the overall process.

Challenge 3: Variability in process time

A machine may sometimes take longer to complete a task than expected, or an employee may take longer to complete a task due to distractions or interruptions.

Tip: Gather data on multiple process cycles for an accurate average cycle time. Use statistical tools to analyze the data and identify patterns or trends in process variability. This information can be used to develop strategies for reducing variability and increasing consistency in process time.

Challenge 4: Lack of historical data

If you’re measuring a process for the first time, you may not have historical data to compare current performance against. This can make it difficult to determine whether the current cycle time is good or bad.

Tip: Establish benchmarks for cycle time based on industry standards or similar processes in your organization. Use these benchmarks as a guide for measuring and improving performance.

Who is responsible for calculating cycle time?

Calculating cycle time can involve several different individuals and departments within a business, depending on the nature of the process being measured. In general, the responsibility for calculating cycle time falls to the individuals or teams directly involved in the measured process.

For example, in a manufacturing environment, the responsibility for measuring cycle time may fall to the production team responsible for producing the goods. Similarly, in a customer service setting, the responsibility for measuring cycle time may fall to the customer service team, who handles customer inquiries and resolves issues.

Sometimes, the responsibility for calculating cycle time may be assigned to a specific department, such as a process improvement or quality assurance team. These teams may be responsible for developing and implementing procedures for data collection, analysis, and reporting and identifying opportunities for process optimization.

Ultimately, the responsibility for calculating cycle time should be assigned to individuals or teams who clearly understand the process being measured and can collect and analyze data consistently and accurately. 

Using project management software to calculate cycle time

Calculating cycle time is a crucial part of project management, and using a project management tool is an excellent way to make the whole thing easier. With this software, you can gather detailed metrics and generate reports that can track the progress of your project, identify bottlenecks, and make necessary adjustments in real time. 

To use the cycle time formula with project management software, follow these steps:

  1. Determine the scope of the project: Before you can start calculating cycle time, you need to define the scope of your project. This includes the tasks involved, the team members responsible for each task, and deadlines. Once you have this information, you can input it into your project management software.
  1. Use cumulative flow diagrams: Cumulative flow diagrams (CFD) are a great way to track the progress of your project. They show the work in progress, completed, and backlogged over a specific period. By analyzing the CFD, you can determine the average cycle time for each task and identify any bottlenecks.
  1. Use Kanban charts: Kanban charts show the progress of each task from the beginning to the end. Using this chart, you can determine the time it takes to complete each task and identify any issues that may arise, not to mention keeping the team on track from project start to finish!  
Get started with your own Kanban board.
  1. Estimate and track time: You need to estimate the time it takes to complete each task before starting your project. By comparing the estimated and actual times, you can identify the accuracy of your initial estimate and make any necessary adjustments.

Final thoughts

Using the cycle time formula can be a valuable tool for improving process performance. By establishing clear procedures for data collection, breaking down complex processes, dealing with variability in process time, and establishing benchmarks for performance, all via the help of good quality task tracking tools, businesses can overcome challenges and use cycle time to optimize their operations and get more out of their team.



Subscribe to our newsletter

Learn with Nulab to bring your best ideas to life