Cycle time is the time it takes your team to bring a story from the started point to whatever you define as done.
If you prefer, Six Sigma has a more fancy way of describing it:
Cycle time is the total time from the beginning to the end of your process, as defined by you and your customer. Cycle time includes process time, during which a unit is acted upon to bring it closer to an output, and delay time, during which a unit of work is spent waiting to take the next action.
Measuring and improving on your cycle time is a sure way to avoid wasting money in your development process by becoming more efficient and removing expensive bottlenecks.
Are some stories taking too long to get accepted?
Every second a story stays in delivered state it is wasting more money. Why? Because it isn't being used by your customers and because no one is actually working on it.
You have to be able to spot this kind of problem, find out why and act on it as soon as possible. Sometimes the problem can be as simple as a PO (product owner) who only accepts stories at the end of each iteration.
In order to be as efficient as possible, you want the shortest possible feedback loop between the delivered state and the next state, whether it is rejected or accepted. It should be the PO's (or customer's) top priority to make sure it isn't getting stuck in that state.
Are some stories opened and forgotten?
A common cause of high cycle time is forgotten stories. It usually happens as follows: a developer picks a story, starts to work on it and then he either gets stuck on it or he is interrupted and starts working on something else. This can go on for quite a while.
This is problematic because at some point in time, this story was considered as the next most important thing to be worked on and all of a sudden, no one knows about it. Is it because it wasn't that important? Is it simply because the team has other things to worry about? In both cases, there is an issue to be addressed and decisions to be made.
In this case, there are 2 key performance indicators (KPIs) you can look at to avoid wasting money, the work in progress (WIP) and the cycle time.
I already wrote on how you can deliver more by starting less using the work in progress KPI. But you can also track this with the cycle time.
Cycle time chart
Insight's cycle time chart lets you see all stories in a particular timeframe. This chart allows you to visually identify stories that are taking too long to complete or stories that got stuck in a particular state for too long.
Each story gets it's own bar and you can clearly see each state it's been on. You can hover each state to find out how long it spent there.
Tracking the cycle time KPI is a great way to cut down waste in your development process and save considerable amounts of money.
Each team is different though and it's very possible to find bottlenecks in different parts than those I mentioned above. The important thing is to keep an eye on the cycle time and to make sure your stories flow through all states of your development process without getting stuck in any of them.