Have you been feeling like a hamster on a wheel, lately? Running endlessly but going nowhere in your projects? Well, it's time to hop off that wheel and take control of your project cycle time.
Reducing cycle time in software projects is crucial! Faster project completion means happier customers, improved outcomes, and a whole lot less stress for everyone involved. At CyberMedics, we know a thing or two about streamlining projects, and we want to share our top seven ways with you to reduce cycle time in your software projects.
Ready? Let's go.
Table of contents
What is cycle time?
First, let's make sure we understand the terminology. Cycle time is a measure of how long it takes from beginning to end for one project cycle to complete. This includes all tasks, processes, and waiting times associated with the project lifecycle.
How reducing cycle time helps your business
Happier customers: Nobody likes waiting forever to see results. By reducing cycle time, you'll be able to deliver projects faster and make your customers smile (and maybe even throw in a high-five or two).
Improved outcomes: When you're able to complete projects faster, you'll have more time to fine-tune your work, catch errors, and make improvements. The end result? Better outcomes that will make your team proud and your clients happy.
Reduced stress: Let's face it, long projects can be stressful. But by reducing cycle time, you'll be able to put those worries to rest and enjoy a more relaxed work environment. Stress balls and meditation apps not included.
Increased productivity: When you're not stuck in a never-ending cycle of project work, you'll have more time to focus on other important tasks. This increased productivity can lead to more revenue, better teamwork, and maybe even a company-wide pizza party. In fact, one case study revealed that an organization's pre-tax profits increased from 2% to 13%, thanks in part to a thorough understanding of cycle time, coupled with other lean principles.
Competitive advantage: In the world of software development, time is money. By reducing cycle time, you'll be able to stay ahead of the competition and be the envy of all your rivals. Cue the victory dance!
How to calculate cycle time in software projects
If you're going to reduce your cycle time, you first need to understand where your current cycle time stands. Calculating cycle time in software projects is actually pretty simple. Here's a step-by-step guide to help you out:
Step 1: Determine your Net Production Time (NPT)
NPT is the time it takes to complete a task, minus any breaks or waiting time.
To calculate NPT, subtract the time spent on non-value-adding activities (like meetings, breaks, or waiting for approvals) from the total production time.
Step 2: Determine the Number of Units Produced
In software development, a unit can be anything from a single line of code to a completed feature.
Count the number of units produced within the time frame you're interested in.
Step 3: Divide NPT by the Number of Units Produced
To calculate cycle time, simply divide NPT by the number of units produced.
The result is the time it takes to complete a single unit of work.
And that's it! You now have the cycle time for your software project. This information can be used to optimize your process and improve project delivery times. Just remember to use NPT to get an accurate measurement of the time it takes to complete a unit of work, and you'll be well on your way to reducing cycle time like a pro.
1. Analyze the current state of your processes
The first step to reducing cycle time is understanding your current workflow. Analyze how the project moves from start to finish, taking into account tasks, processes, and waiting times. This will help you identify areas for improvement and develop strategies for streamlining your workflow.
Identify bottlenecks with value stream mapping: Use tools like Lucidchart or Miro to create a visual representation of your software development process. This will help you spot areas where work is piling up, waiting for resources or where multiple hand-offs are occurring, ultimately leading to longer cycle times.
Monitor key performance indicators (KPIs): Use project management tools like JIRA or Trello to track KPIs such as lead time, cycle time, and throughput. This data will help you identify inefficiencies and make informed decisions to optimize your current processes.
Continuously improve with retrospectives: Conduct regular retrospectives to review your processes and identify areas for improvement. When the cycle time for a project takes significantly longer than others, be sure to look for outliers too – what caused the delays? Did the CR or QA take too long? Technical debt? And use tools like Retrium or Parabol to help facilitate effective retrospectives, enabling your team to discuss and implement changes that reduce cycle time.
Leverage analytics and reporting: Use analytics tools like Power BI, Tableau, or Google Data Studio to visualize and analyze your software development metrics. Regularly monitoring these metrics can help you identify trends, spot bottlenecks, and make data-driven decisions to improve your processes.
Example: How CyberMedics studied the legacy system of Hayward Industries
CyberMedics was approached by Hayward Industries to help them replace their outdated approval tracking system. We began by mapping out the processes, interviewing users, and pinpointing the waste in the system. This analysis revealed that:
The existing system was inefficient
Didn't integrate well with external tools
Came with high licensing costs
After gathering user feedback, we identified key features that an ideal system should have, such as:
Automatically identifying the reviewers
Providing easy access for users
Generating reports to help identify process issues
The new Approval Tracking System we developed for Hayward Industries directly contributed to reducing cycle time. By automating the reviewer identification process, streamlining user access, and providing better reporting, the system eliminated manual tasks and inefficiencies. As a result, approval processes became faster and more accurate, leading to quicker project turnaround times and an overall reduction in cycle time for the company.
2. Automate as much as you can
You know those tedious, eye-rolling tasks you have to do? The ones that take hours to complete, but only require a few clicks? Automate them. Automation can drastically reduce cycle time by eliminating manual processes and streamlining complex workflows.
What can I automate?
Code Review: Automating code review can help reduce cycle time by catching errors and improving code quality. Tools like CodeClimate, SonarQube, and Crucible can help automate code review. For example, Facebook uses Getafix to automatically review code and that automatically finds fixes for bugs and offers them to engineers to approve.
Testing: Automating code testing can help reduce cycle time by catching bugs early on in the development process. Use tools like Selenium, Appium, and Cypress to do this.
Continuous Integration and Continuous Delivery (CI/CD): Automating the process of building, testing, and deploying software applications can significantly reduce cycle time. Tools like Jenkins, CircleCI, and Travis CI can help automate these processes.
3. Use components to save time
Once your product has moved beyond its initial MVP phase, it's time to begin constructing a design system and components that can be reused.
Components are reusable pieces of code that can speed up development and reduce cycle time. Rather than having to rewrite code for each project, developers can use components and customize them as needed.
Where can I find components?
If you're building something custom, begin with baby steps. Allot your designers the time they need to develop thoroughly documented components for frequently used interface elements, while permitting your developers ample room to assemble a well-stocked components repository.
There are also lots of resources for finding high-quality, reliable components. You can find components on websites like GitHub, NPM, and Bit.ly. You can also purchase components from online marketplaces like ThemeForest and Envato Elements.
It may slow you down now, but will pay off greatly in the long run.
4. Standardize processes
By establishing clear guidelines and procedures, teams can minimize errors, reduce miscommunication, and save time on projects. When everyone on the team follows the same set of guidelines, it becomes easier to manage tasks, track progress, and ensure quality. Not to mention it's much simpler to onboard new team members.
Define Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs): Establish clear, written SOPs for every phase of the development process, from planning to deployment. This includes coding conventions, testing protocols, and release procedures.
Create process documentation: Develop comprehensive documentation that outlines your team's processes, tools, and best practices. This will help ensure that everyone is on the same page and make it easier to train new team members.
Implement version control: Take advantage of version control systems like Git or Subversion to manage your codebase effectively. This ensures that everyone is working with the same code versions and makes it easier to track changes and revert to previous versions if needed.
Real-life example: CyberMedics helped turn around a struggling internal software development team for Security 101. Since the in-house development team was relying on outdated practices, they were continuously failing to meet deadlines and delivering updates that simply did not satisfy the requirements of the business.
Here's how we tackled that:
Designing a new development system that included new job roles and a lean process
Assisting in the job search and hiring process
Working closely with the newly hired development team to teach lean processes and reinforce best practices
Utilizing the CyberProcess™ to enable Security 101 to achieve their business goals and deliver updates that support company growth.
By following these steps, Security 101 was able to achieve their goals on time and optimize the processes behind their software development. The team was able to build an efficient system with improved quality standards and greater accountability for each of the members.
5. Streamline your code review process
Code reviews are notorious for taking up large chunks of time during the development cycle. But there are ways to streamline your code review process and reduce cycle time. Code review (CR) can be a time sink, but a few tweaks can make a big difference.
Let's dissect the CR process:
Code review time = Time to first review + Time to approval + Time to merge
Time to first review
This is the time from opening a pull request (PR) to its first review. Aim for a healthy review time in hours, not days.
Pro tip: Schedule two to three code review slots during the day to cap first review time to about four working hours.
Time to approval
This measures the time from the first review to all required approvals. Factors include:
Number of comments in the PR
Time to resolve comments
Number of approvals needed
Keep comments minimal, prioritize closing in-progress PRs, and ensure the number of approvals aligns with your goals.
Time to merge
This is the time from the last approval to merging the code and closing the PR. Ideally, it should be close to zero, with a healthy CI/CD pipeline handling it for the team.
6. Cut down on any technical debt
Having technical debt can be a significant contributor to cycle time. What does that look like? Here are some examples:
Unused and confusing spaghetti code
Depreciated libraries and frameworks
Lack of test automation
Inefficient continuous delivery workflows
Cuts in UI and UX implementation
Bugs that we have decided not to fix at present
And remember, the higher the level of technical debt, the longer it will take to complete a development cycle. Here's how you can tackle technical debt slowly:
Identify and prioritize technical debt based on impact and cost to ensure the most critical technical debt is addressed first.
Again, automated testing can catch bugs earlier, reduce the cost of fixing issues later, and speed up the development cycle.
Refactoring and optimizing code can make it more efficient and maintainable, reducing the overall cycle time.
Streamlining the development process and improving infrastructure can significantly reduce technical debt and speed up the overall cycle time.
Involve stakeholders in discussions about technical debt such as cuts in UI and UX implementation and missing documentation. Improved collaboration and communication among team members can help address technical debt and improve the overall cycle time.
7. Make cross-team operations a breeze
Communication and coordination between teams and stakeholders can be a major resource drain and significantly lengthen your cycle time.
Here's how to successfully work across departments and teams:
Automate processes and communicate clearly to save time and prevent misunderstandings. Consider setting up automatic notifications for team members to stay informed of important updates and changes.
Develop a training program: Provide training for other teams to perform reviews and reduce cycle time. Incorporate feedback loops to ensure the training program is effective and regularly updated.
Use project management tools: Using project management tools with clear board configurations can help everyone understand prioritization and workload transparency. Leverage tools like JIRA and Trello to keep developers informed.
Spread triaging: Distribute triaging across teams to avoid overburdening certain teams. For example, using a triage package can ensure that every team member has a role to play in triaging issues. Pro tip: Consider setting up a rotating schedule for triaging to ensure everyone has an equal opportunity to participate.
Establish more focused milestones: Break down features into smaller milestones to reduce context switching and improve efficiency. Set up regular check-ins and progress reviews to ensure everyone is on track and to identify any issues early on.
Optimize your cycle time with CyberMedics
Overall, optimizing your development cycle time is important for delivering better products faster. To achieve this goal, it’s essential to focus on the key areas that drive longer cycles such as technical debt, cross-team operations, and PR review speed.
At CyberMedics, we understand the importance of minimizing cycle time and have developed products that help teams optimize their development process. Our Smart CI/CD platform helps deliver better products faster by automating processes, providing real-time updates, and streamlining cross-team coordination. With our solutions, your team can accelerate their development cycles and save time, money, and resources.