Why IT Leaders Need to Track Flow Time

May 24, 2021

Many organizations are beginning to tighten the DevOps screws as they look for ways to increase productivity and decrease costs. So there's a rising demand for DevOps flow metrics that deliver direct insights into value streams. 

What are flow metrics, and why are they critical to DevOps workflows? Let’s take a closer look. 

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An Introduction to Value Stream Flow Metrics 

Flow metrics measure flow items, which are individual units of work. For example, a flow item may be a product defect or feature in a piece of software. 

Units of work may originate from customers or clients. They may also originate from team administrators ahead of a big software release.

When it comes down to it, there are a few different ways to measure flow metrics, including lead time, throughput, work in progress, flow efficiency, work profile, and flow time (also known as cycle time). One key flow metric to consider is flow time. 

What is Flow Time?

Simply put, flow time (also known as cycle time) is the amount of time it takes for flow items to move through the value stream from the time work begins to the time it’s complete. Flow time can be further broken down into flow efficiency, which involves analyzing active time versus wait time within total flow time. 

In a typical workflow, a work item is first approved. Then, work on that particular project begins, commencing a series of active and waiting periods until the item is delivered and the workflow ceases. 

Some key phrases to note here are cycle time, which occurs when work starts, and lead time, which begins as soon as the item is approved for work. There’s also a difference between DevOps lead time (i.e., commit to deliver) and value stream lead time (i.e., work start to completion).

Why IT Leaders Should Track Cycle Time

At this point, you should have a general understanding of flow time. Next, let’s take a look at some of the tasks IT leaders can streamline by tracking it.

Measuring Cycle Times

Managers need to be able to determine approximately how much time it will take from the moment work begins until the moment the work item is delivered. Managers need to compare cycle times with lead times for benchmarking and reporting purposes. 

Allocating Resources

IT leaders often struggle to manage workloads and allocate resources effectively. In fact, it’s very difficult to assign tasks and distribute work when it’s not clear how much time a work item will require.

By tracking cycle time, managers can have an easier time distributing resources and managing simultaneous projects. This is particularly important when managing projects at scale.

Providing Project Estimates 

Communication is critical for success in a DevOps setting. Managers need to field questions from stakeholders—including executives, administrators, partners, customers, investors, and media partners—about project timelines and expected release dates. 

At the end of the day, projects almost always run over their expected release dates, a self-referential adage known as Hofstadter’s Law. However, by tracking flow time, managers can understand when time to value realization is slowing down. As a result, they can continuously adjust their expectations as to when work will be done. . 

The Benefits of Tracking Cycle Time

The push for tracking flow time is part of a wider trend that’s occurring in IT as companies take another look at workflows and increase their tracking and analytics efforts. 

Companies that use DevOps are looking for ways to streamline operations and drill down into specific projects to track progress, reduce inefficiencies, and ultimately justify spend. This is particularly important in the post-COVID landscape, where budgets are tighter and there is more scrutiny on resource allocation.

With this in mind, here are some of the benefits associated with tracking flow time. 

Tighter Workflows

Projects tend to move faster and smoother when there’s visibility into how the process is working. Keeping an eye on the clock, tracking the time to value, and striving to meet deadlines can make teams work harder and complete tasks more effectively.

Improved Efficiency

The key to DevOps is to keep pipelines moving and maximize active time while reducing wait time. As such, tracking flow time and drilling down into flow efficiency can help identify where and when waste is occurring. In turn, this allows managers to take action when they need to. 

Enhanced Reputation 

DevOps is a competitive field. The best DevOps professionals are picky about where they work and tend to gravitate toward companies that have seamless workflows and cutting-edge systems and processes.

Companies that want to attract top DevOps talent need to measure flow metrics. This enables them to demonstrate that they’re committed to agile and efficient workflows.

Tracking value stream flow metrics can also take a lot of pressure off DevOps professionals as it reduces finger-pointing and blame. When everyone is on the same page about flow time, everything else tends to fall into place. As a result, overall employee experience improves. 

Faster Releases 

At the end of the day, tracking flow time almost always leads to faster releases with fewer errors and delays. Not only does this please stakeholders, it also reflects better on IT managers who are responsible for overseeing DevOps projects. 

What Happens if You Don’t Track Cycle Time?

Companies with DevOps deployments are now at a crossroads. The days of siloed workflows and shadow projects are coming to an end. Looking ahead, the next phase of DevOps will be all about analyzing workflows, tracking performance, and adjusting processes to improve outcomes. 

Quite simply, organizations that resist tracking flow time will struggle to compete in this new phase of DevOps. It will be harder to attract top DevOps professionals. And overall time cycles will continue to increase as software grows more complex. This will ultimately drive up costs even higher, making it harder to deploy agile software.

The trick is to reduce development time as much as possible and roll out software in a way that is less resource-intensive. And this requires carefully tracking flow time.

How to Track Flow Time

At this point, you may be wondering how to track and improve flow time in your DevOps environments. Until recently, flow time had to be tracked manually, which was nearly impossible to do with any semblance of efficiency. 

Good news: Tracking flow time can be easily accomplished using a purpose-built, cloud-based value stream management platform like Plutora.

How Plutora Helps With Time Flow Tracking 

Plutora makes it easy for product managers to visualize value streams using a centralized dashboard. The platform provides a variety of metrics like lead time, process time, and most importantly cycle time. What’s more, Plutora eliminates guesswork, saving time and reducing errors along the way.

By using Plutora, managers can have a much easier time drilling down into specific DevOps workflows and making changes to improve productivity. 

This also comes in handy when coordinating test environments, which tend to be chaotic and uncoordinated when done by hand. Managers can use Plutora to anticipate when certain processes will enter into the testing phase, and they'll be able to schedule accordingly. 

The end result is a value stream that is highly orchestrated and fine-tuned, one that is capable of meeting rising DevOps demands.

Are You Ready To Cut Down on Flow Time Today?

Plutora is the most complete value stream management solution on the market. By investing in Plutora, product managers can transform their DevOps processes and cut down on production time, leading to happier stakeholders, leaner deployments, and delighted users. For more information on the easiest way to track flow time, take Plutora for a spin today.

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