Managers: See Your Cycle Time to Reduce Your Team’s Lead Time

Do you have any idea how long it takes you to make decisions? Or, to clear impediments? Or to report to your team or your boss about your action items?

Each of those items is a deliverable. That means we might be able to measure the cycle time for each of these deliverables.

Normally, we measure cycle time for teams. (See Measure Cycle Time, Not Velocity for more details.)

And, for teams of managers, I wrote Why Minimize Management Decision Time.

And, sometimes, managers work “alone” to deliver value. Few of those ways are directly about the product itself. For example, you might:

  • Clarify the purpose of some work for your team or part of a workgroup.
  • Clear impediments that only your team encounters.
  • Revisit/refine/revise guidelines/constraints for the team

These are all part of the Modern Management Made Easy Principles.

How long does it take you to deliver your value? That's your personal cycle time.

Multitasking Increases Your Cycle Time

If you multitask, your cycle time depends on how much you're trying to do—your WIP (Work in Progress).

I used this visual in Manage It! so people could see the effects of multitasking. Each of these tasks takes one week. The more you interleave tasks, the more everything slows down.

However, I don't know of managers who only multitask between two items. Most managers I know feel as if they have 10 or more tasks in the air, somehow waiting to complete.

Visualize Your Cycle Time

The more you multitask, the more you might find visualizing your cycle time might work better.

Personal Value Stream Map showing 3 items

This value stream map shows only 3 work items. Most managers have more than three items on their action lists. I wanted to clarify the process, not make it impossible to read.

This is a start, but it's not enough. You might decide to create parallel value stream maps instead to separate each item into its own cycle time.

Separate each item into its own stream

When you see your various cycle times, you can see specific data for each item. Every time I work with a manager to create a value stream, that manager is surprised by how long the wait times are.

The manager works on three items “in parallel.”

Each item has its own cycle time.

The wait time for finishing any management task outweighs the work time by an order of magnitude.

I bet some of you wait a lot longer than the 2-3 weeks to finish work.

You might ask why not use a kanban board to show these delays?

Because kanban boards don't easily show the feedback loops or multiple delays. Items 1 and 2 are straightforward. The manager only has to interact with one or two people to finish the work. Because those people are working on their work, they create delays for our manager.

What about Item 3? That's the case I see most often. The manager starts something (20 minutes), realizes she needs Person 1 to get to the next step (5 minutes). She has small wait times between these first pieces. However, she started Item 3.

She talks to Person 3 (10 minutes) and later in the day, talks to Person 2 (5 minutes.) I didn't include more ping-ponging to talk to people, all the while waiting for more information to make decisions or finish the work.

How much of your work is in a similar state as Item 3? You need more people to finish your work. You can't get them all in a meeting to collaborate. In the meantime, your total cycle time extends longer and longer.

Management Cycle Time Increases the Team's Lead Time 

The point of visualizing your cycle time is to help you see options.

When managers work individually, they increase their cycle time. Worse, because the team waits for the manager's deliverable, the team's lead time increases.

Very few of my management clients start knowing their personal cycle time. However, if you learn your cycle time, you can decide what to do next.

When you visualize your cycle time, you can detect whether your work increases your team's lead time.

If you want to see more about this and the effect on teams, read Practical Ways to Manage Yourself. (I just added this and that section has not yet been copyedited.)

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