Monday, December 21, 2009

The Road To Productivity: Reduce Cycle Time

In a previous post I discussed how to reduce WIP, a major leech that keeps us from achieving our goals. In this post I want to discus another major leech Cycle Time.

Cycle time is the amount of time it takes us to go through one work cycle, it is one turn of the crank on producing our work products. It is the time span that we have before we have to be accountable to somebody else for producing what we committed to.

The human tendency is to make this time span as long as possible because that removes the pressure on us to perform and pressure means stress and everybody knows that stress is bad.

However, another way to look at it is to notice that we often learn at the end of a work cycle when we see what we’ve got and what needs to change in both the result and the process that got us to that result. The shorter our cycle time is the more cycles we get and the more opportunities we have to learn and adapt. When you want to improve productivity, to adapt is where it’s at.

If you find that you can not make your deadlines with a short cycle time, the first reaction is to lengthen the cycle time; nothing could be worse. It is important to realize that if you don’t get your work product done in the allotted cycle time, the thing to do is to reduce the cycle time and the committed work. This lets you learn and adapt more and debug what is wrong. Keep shortening your cycle time until things are fixed. Even if your cycle time goes to one hour, this is not too bad.

How small is too small? Well, the learning is at the end of a cycle is really a step in the process that is about the process. It is meta-work. The same with any planning at the beginning. When the meta-work approaches being a significant piece of the time budget, it may be time to fall back to a slightly larger cycle time to get the right ratio of work to meta-work. This is a balancing act but you will hone in on the right cycle time.

I find that anything longer than two weeks is too long. Find what works for you.

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