There’s No Such Thing as an Industry Standard for Cycle Time and Here is Why
Hey there! I’m Sonya Siderova, CEO and founder here at Nave. I help managers and their teams deliver on time and avoid burnout, keeping everyone happier and more motivated for the long haul. Today we’re going to talk about how to (and not to) set your standards when it comes to your cycle time to figure out whether your improvement efforts are paying off.
Recently, a client of mine asked me for a “favor.”
She wanted to know if I could provide her with some “industry standards” for her team to compare themselves against.
She then shared with me a link to a study, showing some benchmark figures. She thought that if she and her team could measure up to a similar standard, it meant they were doing a good job.
I’ll admit, I was pretty distressed at first when my client told me all this.
It wasn’t because she had bad intentions.
I was uncomfortable because, essentially, she was trying to force herself (and her team) to meet unrealistic expectations. She thought she needed to get herself to fit into someone else’s threshold.
She was buying into the notion that if she and her team weren’t able to reach a certain standard, then they were all somehow falling short.
This kind of thinking is so not true.
When it comes to cycle time, there is no such thing as an industry standard. And I’ll tell you why.
Your business is unique.
Your clients, your teams, your processes, your strengths, your weaknesses – each and every one of these things is unique to you and looks different for each and every company out there.
Why would you compare your results to someone else’s results?
The context is totally different. It’s like comparing your lifestyle to that of a friend just because you’re both the same age.
Furthermore, it’s disruptive.
An unrealistic, un-personalized benchmark just sets everyone up for failure. It leads to guilt, frustration, loss of confidence, and all this without your team actually having done anything wrong.
Last but certainly not least, it’s demotivating. And as I’m sure you know from experience, it’s harder to deliver quality results when your motivation is suffering.
So, banish the thought from your mind that there’s some sort of a cycle time industry standard. No one has the same business context you do. Period.
The thing about cycle time is, it’s relative.
Let’s say your team has an average cycle time of 14 days.
Let’s also say that 3 months earlier, your cycle time was at 49 days. That means that within 3 months, your cycle time has gone down to less than a third of what it was originally. In that case, I’d say you’re doing fantastic.
On the other hand, if your average cycle time is at 14 days, but it used to be at only 2-3 days, then you’re probably going through a transformation initiative that’s causing your delivery time to go up.
Here is the thing, as long as you understand why your cycle time is moving over time, you’re in a good place. You should only be worried if your delivery time is changing and you don’t know why that happens.
You need perspective when you evaluate your cycle time. It won’t make sense otherwise.
When it comes to measuring your cycle time to see whether your improvement efforts are paying off, the only thing that makes sense is to look back on your own data.
If you do need a threshold (and I agree that you do), you need to look to your own past performance – not someone else’s.
Look at your previous cycle time 3 months, 6 months into the past and compare it to how you’re doing now. Look at the numbers. How have the trends built over time? Is your cycle time going up? Going down? Staying consistent?
Those numbers will give you the answer you need. They will tell if you’ve headed in the right direction.
If you haven’t analyzed your past performance, start now. One of the best ways to track how your cycle time trends have developed is by using a Cycle Time Histogram.
Look at your mean cycle time.
The mean is the average calculation that you are most likely to be familiar with. This involves adding up all of the values and dividing them by the number of instances in the data set.
Where does the mean cycle time point for the past month? How about the past 3 or 6 months?
Now, that you’re looking at the past 6 months, what does the cycle time trends look like for you?
Within just a few moments of looking at your histogram, you’ll get a good idea of which direction you’re going in, and whether it’s the right direction.
If you haven’t connected your management tool to Nave just yet, now is the time! It will only take a couple of minutes to build your dashboard and analyze your cycle time trends. Try it for free for 14 days (no CC required!) →
My point is…
If you want to feel successful, you shouldn’t measure yourself against some kind of industry standard. I’d go further and say that you shouldn’t even measure yourself against your own goals.
Goals are awesome, make no mistake. But goals aren’t something to measure against, they’re something to look toward for the next step.
After all, how can you measure based on something in the future?
Goals are great for pushing ourselves forward and achieving new things, but they’re not how we define whether or not we’re successful.
To determine whether or not you’re successful, you have to measure backwards.
Instead of wasting time trying to fit into someone else’s threshold, stop and take a look at your own data. Set your standards by looking backwards into your historical performance.
Don’t waste your time comparing yourself to some industry benchmarks.
Don’t measure yourself against someone else’s threshold.
The only way to reach your true potential is by improving consistently, one step at a time, using your own data as a point of reference.
Hopefully, you feel a little bit lighter now, knowing that success means progress. If you’re making progress, kudos to you! If not, shake the dust, learn the lesson and move on. As long as you keep moving, you my friend are truly successful!
If you know someone else who also needs to hear this message, please share it with them. I feel strongly about it and I’d be grateful if you spread the word.
I hope you enjoyed this week’s piece of managerial goodness. I wish you a wonderful day and I’ll see you next week, same time, same place. Buy for now!
- Sonya Siderova
Goals are there to give you direction.
Now, what if after all your efforts you didn’t manage to cross that finish line in less than 2 hours? Does this mean you failed?
It doesn’t because you’ve become smarter, faster, stronger.
Here is my main point. You shouldn’t measure your success against your goals. Instead, you should look backward and celebrate all the progress you’ve made.
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Meet the Author
Sonya Siderova is a passionate product manager and a driving force behind Nave, a Kanban analytics suite that helps teams improve their delivery speed through data-driven decision making. When she's not catering to her two little ones, you might find Sonya absorbed in a good heavyweight boxing match or behind a screen crafting a new blog post.
When I exercise, of course, all I’m focusing on is can I lift one more kg or run for one km longer or 1min faster. I only compare myself to my past self. But there is an objective reality out there as to how much I should be able to achieve at the minimum. I cannot know my maximum, but I for sure can know my minimum. After sampling thousands of runs, its clear that a good half-marathon is under 2h, which anybody can do with proper training. That helps to focus on an achievable goal! Because that’s “industry standard” – that’s average. Yes, I wont be helpful to ponder about why someone can do a full marathon in 2h, but there is no excuse not to strive for the achievable goal.