Measuring Kanban Lead & Cycle Time

Now that we are using our Kanban board for a while, it’s time to do some analytics with the visualized information on the whiteboard. Kanban is not only about visualizing your process with a bunch of post-it’s, you can actually do a lot with those “post-it’s”. What I will try to explain in this post is how you can define the lead & cycle time of your items on the board. That way, we can provide some time-related information to our customers about how long it will take to make a particular feature and how long it will take from ‘request’ till ‘delivery’. 

When you use the Scrum methodology to deliver new features to your client, it’s clear that your feature will be ready by the end of a sprint (in normal circumstances). That’s because it uses a time-boxed approach. Using Kanban however, you don’t have any time-boxed iteration. That way it’s quite hard to tell the client when the request will be accomplished.

First of all, what’s the defintion of a lead time and a cycle time? And also, what’s difference anyway?

Lead time

This is the time needed to get your feature ready. In Kanban, this is the time from when your item is added to the backlog till your item is live. So the clock starts when the request is made and ends at delivery.


Cycle time

This is the time needed to ‘make’ a feature or ‘complete’ a task. In Kanban, this is the time when your item is in a ‘in process’ state and there is someone working on that particular item. So the clock starts when work begins on the request and ends when the item is live.


The difference?

The lead time is the time and not the effort spent on the item. You may have a lead time of 20 days, but there were only 2 hours work on the item. The Lead Time and Cycle Time do not have the same unit although. Lead Time is measured by elapsed time (minutes, hours, etc.). Cycle Time is measured by the effort spent on the item defined by time per unit (minutes/task, hours/part).



Now you know the difference between the two, it is obvious that the lead time is more relevant from the business perspective than the cycle time. Actually the cycle time is what the team can influence by changing the work process. Sharper WIP limits for example can reduce the cycle time, but also the determination of the bottleneck in the flow can help you to improve the cycle time.

What I will do now is track 4 things n the Kanban board:
  1. The date as when an item/feature is added to the backlog = the request date
  2. The date as when an item enters the ‘todo’ column
  3. The time each person spends on anthe item
  4. The date as when anitem is ready/live

Using these 4 measurements, I will be able to determine the lead and cycle time of our board.

Note: I’m not quite sure about the time as when the item is ready. Is it really ready when the feature has passed the acceptance phase? Or is it really ready when the feature is ‘live’? Any feedback is really appreciated!

In a next post, I will try to explain how you can improve the lead and cycle time using my personal experiences. Thanks for reading!

Written by
Alexander Vanwynsberghe
Join the discussion


Alexander Vanwynsberghe

Belgium-based entrepreneur. Into technology, innovation and a bit of cycling and running too. Evangelist for everything related to smart-tech.