Improve Process Cycle Time

Written by Ian James, Oct 1, 2013

The best way to improve process cycle time is to ask the right questions to pinpoint areas for improvement.

Simple whiteboard video with stick figures explaining the concept of cycle time at a beginner level.

How to identify where you can improve process cycle time

In process jargon when you are seeking ways to make things faster, you are looking to ‘improve process cycle time’. The cycle time for a process is the time it takes to run through one whole instance. This video outlines the key questions you need to ask in order to speed things up and improve cycle time.

1.    Are there any steps we can take out in order to improve process cycle time? So for example, take a look at authorizations. Maybe something went wrong in a process some time in the past. And so we changed the process by adding an extra control step. But do we still need it? Or can we limit it to only certain circumstances.

2.    Are there things we doing sequentially that we could do concurrently? If we can run things in parallel we are saving time. Now, of course, for this to be worthwhile, we have to have the resources to do that without incurring some other penalty.

3.    How good are the hand-offs? On a process map it looks like one person simply hands off responsibility for the next step to someone else. But in reality, it might not be as clean as that.  Is there a series of emails or calls back and forth requesting details that are needed to complete the task? This oscillation is wasteful and slows things down.

4.    Are there any Air-gaps? An air gap is where an information flow is interrupted. It happens most often where information in one software application is not passed directly to another. For example, a report is printed out from one system, faxed and then someone re-enters the data into an accounting system.

5.    Is there information starvation? Many times, a task will be slowed down by the need to find information. We have to look something up, find a rule or policy, or request some other data to perform a task.  Can we find a way to have the information to hand when it is needed?

6.    Is there a skill bottleneck? Sometimes a process has a bottleneck because only one person with a certain skillset can perform a certain task. Now that might be unavoidable. But more often it is worth the effort to cross train someone to perform the task and remove the delay.

7.    Are we repeating any steps in the process? Duplication is common especially if the process crosses more than one department. For example, in a billing process, Department X may not know that a social security number has already been checked by department Y in an earlier part of the process.


  • What steps can we take out?
  • What steps can we do in parallel?
  • Can we improve hand-offs?
  • Are there any air gaps?
  • Is there information starvation?
  • Are there any skill bottlenecks?
  • Is there any duplication?

These questions might not reveal everything you need to do in order to improve process cycle time but I hope you find them a useful starting point.

There are lots of ways to improve processes. You can find out more by watching other videos in this series. You can get them on my website,

Thanks for watching!
I am Ian James,

The Process Consultant.

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