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What is cycle time? 11 min read
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If you’re managing a team, you’ve got to have a pretty good grasp of time.

But believe it or not, there are different metrics that project managers use for measuring time — including cycle times, takt times, and lead times.

Cycle time is an especially useful one for optimizing your team’s performance because it tells you exactly how much time you spend producing an item or finishing a task.

A lot of people tend to get cycle time, lead time, and takt time all jumbled up. But hey, we’re here to unjumble you.

This article will explain what cycle time is, how cycle time is different from takt time, how it’s different from lead time, and how you can use to keep tabs on your cycle times.

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What is cycle time?

Before we spell out how cycle time is different from takt time or lead time, we should break down exactly what people mean when they’re talking about “cycle time”.

If it helps, there’s a basic formula project managers often use to calculate cycle time. That formula is:

  • Cycle time (CT) =  Net Production Time (NPT) / Number of Units made (U)
Yellow text box containing cycle time calculation

(Image Source)

There’s a bit of business jargon in there, but don’t worry.

Net production time (NPT)  is just a fancy way to describe the complete duration of your team’s production process. The unit that you use for NPT is normally going to be minutes, hours, days, or weeks.

Need an example? We love examples.

Let’s say your team makes handmade shoes. During their 8 hour shift, the team can produce a batch of 16 pairs of shoes. Your team’s cycle time is the amount of time it takes them to finish one pair of shoes.

To calculate your cycle time, you’d divide your net production time (8) by the number of units made (16). This leaves you with a cycle time of 0.5 hours per pair of shoes.

What are the benefits of calculating your cycle time?

At first glance, calculating your cycle time might just sound like a C-level box-ticking exercise. But the truth is there are several key benefits that go hand-in-hand with being able to know and manage your team’s cycle times.

For example, calculating your cycle times helps you to estimate your team’s delivery dates.

If you can calculate your production rates in real-time, it’ll enable you to give your customers realistic delivery estimates.

By giving spot-on estimates, you’ll do a better job at managing expectations and delivering what you’ve promised, when you’ve promised.

That enhances customer relations and gives your clients confidence in your team.

Another major benefit you can expect when calculating your cycle times is that you’ll be able to better manage your team’s time.

When you understand your cycle time, you’ll always know exactly how long it takes you to produce a unit or finish a single task.

From there, you can take a look at your current and future demand to work out whether you’ve got enough time to do the job. If not, you might need to take on extra staff to help you get the job done.

List of team members with amount of hours spent on work this week shown

Likewise, working out your cycle times will help your organization to reduce overproduction.

Overproduction is a huge waste of your team’s time and your resources. After all, why would you want to make more than you can sell? More important still, overproduction tends to cause major bottlenecks where your distribution and service delivery systems are concerned.

Again, that’s where cycle time comes to the rescue.

When you know how long it takes to complete a task, and you understand what kind of demand you’ve got, it’s pretty simple to use your cycle time to make sure you’re making enough products or completing enough tasks to meet that demand.

Sometimes it makes sense to produce a little bit of surplus stock or make a start on future jobs before you need to. But if you spend too much time making stuff nobody’s asking for, it could place your team in financial jeopardy later on.

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What’s the difference between cycle time and lead time?

OK, so now let’s talk cycle time and lead time. A whole lot of people like to use these 2 terms interchangeably, and it’s not hard to understand why they might do so.

Both cycle time and lead time are metrics that teams use to measure their efficiencies and their ability to deliver for clients.

But when you really break it down, there’s a pretty big difference between the 2.

Cycle time is unique because it measures how much time you spend working on a task or producing something. The clock for cycle time starts when your team begins an operation, and it stops at the point in which your operation has been completed.

Lead time is a little bit different. Lead time starts when a customer order comes in, and then it ends when you deliver the goods or services to that client.

Different length arrows showing that cycle time is shorter than lead time

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How about another example?

Let’s say you’ve got a customer that orders a pair of shoes from your team on Monday. We’ve already figured out that your team’s cycle time is 0.5 hours. That means it’ll take your team 0.5 hours to produce the pair of shoes.

But you’ve got other clients, team meetings, lunch breaks, office admin, and a million other things taking up your time, too. So you end up delivering the shoes to your client on Friday.

That means your lead time to deliver a project is 5 days — despite a cycle time of just 3 hours.

So there you have it: cycle time is how long it takes you to finish a job, but lead time is how long it takes you to deliver that job back to the client.

What’s the difference between cycle time and takt time?

Believe it or not, lead time isn’t the only metric that project managers tend to confuse with cycle time. Another term that gets tossed around a lot is “takt time”.

But again, there’s a fundamental difference between takt time and cycle time.

While cycle time measures how long it takes you to complete a process or a task, takt time is a slightly more nuanced calculation that teams use to understand consumer demand.

If you speak German, it makes a lot more sense. But if you don’t, that’s OK: we’re multilingual over here at

“Takt” is another word for “pulse” in German. Just like a heart rate, customer demand can speed up or slow down. And you’ll want to match your production to suit.

By understanding the demands customers are making on your organization, you’ll be able to make sure you can always meet demand without generating a surplus.

Enter takt time. Managers can use it to optimize their team processes, cross out issues of overproduction, and keep everybody on task to prevent underproduction.

Bar chart showing differing production cycle times with a constant takt time overlaid.

(Image Source)

If this is all new to you, don’t stress. Again, there’s a handy-dandy formula you can use to work out your takt time. That formula is:

  • Takt = available time / customer demand

For example, if you’ve got a customer asking for your team to deliver 4 pairs of shoes per month, your takt time is going to be about 7 days. But your cycle time is still 0.5 hours.

Simply put: cycle time is all about how long it takes to complete a task. Takt time is a customer demand calculation that tells you how often a task should be completed to meet demand.

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How can you use to calculate cycle time?

At this point, we’ve covered why cycle times are such an important metric for teams.

Calculating your cycle times will help you optimize your ways of working, manage expectations, and deliver on time to make happy customers.

Unfortunately, keeping tabs on all of your team’s various cycle times and optimizing those times is easier said than done. Luckily, is on your side here.

Enter’s time tracking column.

With our dynamic time tracking column, it’s easy to keep track of every single one of your cycle times for any given task throughout the course of a project. Making it all happen is super simple, too.

First, select a template. Any template will do — although we’ve got a particular one in mind for you. More on that in a minute.

After you pick a template, you can click on the “+” icon, which is located in the top right-hand corner of your board. Then, you need to select the “More columns” option.

screenshot showing how to add columns in

That will take you to your column center. There are loads of options to choose from, but right now, we only want “time tracking.”

Click on it, and you’re done. That’s it. From here on out, all you’ve got to do is click the timer to start it. You can then stop or pause that timer at any time throughout your production process.

End result: now, you’ll always know exactly how long it’s taking for each member of your team to finish each task. You can then average those cycle times as required.

But if you want to take your time management to the next level, you should really try out our Project Tracker Template.

Screenshot of's Project Tracker Template.

With our Project Tracker Template, you’ll get:

  • The ability to Excel export/import. With the Project Tracker Template, you’ll be able to export to Microsoft Excel with a single click.

Likewise, you’ll also be able to import your Excel spreadsheets back onto your team’s super sleek board whenever you need to.

  • A clear, real-time clear overview of what your team is working on. With this template, it’s easy to visualize all of your team’s task list with a quick glance.

You can set project timelines, plans with dependencies, and then you can assign each task to one or more team members to get the ball rolling.

  • Accountability, ownership, and less chaos. By placing all aspects of your cycle times and task lists in one convenient and transparent place. You’ll always know who’s working on what and have an easy place to communicate with them about it.

Not only will it enable you to calculate your cycle times for each individual task, but you’ll benefit from all the other awesome features you’ve come to expect from

That means:

  • 100s of purpose-built templates so you can hit the ground running
  • Multiple ways to view for workflows, like Kanban, Gantt chart, or timeline
  • 40+ integrations so that you can keep using all of the tools you’re already getting value from
  • The ability to quickly and easily build and share forms with customers or other team members
  • Loads of automations that take just a few seconds for you to set up
  • The ability to build your own custom apps
Screenshot of Apps Dashboard

Let’s talk cycle times

At this point, you’ve probably got the idea. Whenever we’re talking about cycle time, we’re talking about how much time your team spends working on a task.

That’s different from a lead time because lead times start when a client puts in an order and it ends with delivery. It’s also different from takt time, which is just a cool German term for a calculation project managers use to better understand and adapt to customer demand.

Fortunately, with, you can manage all 3 metrics in one convenient place.

You can use our time tracking column to keep track of your cycle times, plus our Project Tracker template supercharges your timekeeping with the added benefit of transparency, ownership, and integrations.

So what are you waiting for? Stop reading about cycle times, and start figuring out what your team’s cycle times are so that you can optimize your performance. Try free for 14 days today.

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