Two Types of Cycle Time = Confusing


This blog post started as a parenthetical comment about cycle time in my last blog post from this morning. But the parenthetical grew out of control and I thought it would only confuse things in that post.

So, hopefully, it's more clear here as a standalone post. In the last post, I explained that “cycle time” meant:

“Cycle time” is a term that means how long it takes to do a repetitive job each time.

Unfortunately “cycle time” is also used to mean how long it takes to get through an entire process from start to finish. This is confusing, I know. As an Industrial Engineer, I'll take lumps on behalf of my profession for this poorly chosen terminology (are we to blame?). Some prefer to call this second form of cycle time (end-to-end elapsed time) by an alternative phrase “throughput time” or many in healthcare would call this “turnaround time.”

But the “cycle time” I mean here is the time between a single person (or machine) starting the first piece of work and that person (or machine) starting the second piece of work. Some would call this “operation time” or some other term.

If a doctor, for example, sees six patients per hour, the doctor's cycle time is 10 minutes per patient. If it takes the patient 60 minutes from arrival to departure, then the “turnaround time” is 60 minutes (see why we don't want to also call that”cycle

I wish we didn't have this confusing terminology, where “cycle time” means two things. I'm always havin to ask for clarification about “which” cycle time a person means (although “throughput time” is normally MUCH longer than “cycle time” for an individual operation in a process).

How do address that in your workplace?

Subscribe via RSS | Lean Blog Main Page | Podcast | Twitter @markgraban

Please check out my main blog page at

The RSS feed content you are reading is copyrighted by the author, Mark Graban.

, , , on the author's copyright.

What do you think? Please scroll down (or click) to post a comment. Or please share the post with your thoughts on LinkedIn – and follow me or connect with me there.

Did you like this post? Make sure you don't miss a post or podcast — Subscribe to get notified about posts via email daily or weekly.

Check out my latest book, The Mistakes That Make Us: Cultivating a Culture of Learning and Innovation:

Get New Posts Sent To You

Select list(s):
Previous article‘Takt Time’ for Apple’s App Store and for Healthcare
Next articleThe Dawn of a New Day in Software Development…
Mark Graban
Mark Graban is an internationally-recognized consultant, author, and professional speaker, and podcaster with experience in healthcare, manufacturing, and startups. Mark's new book is The Mistakes That Make Us: Cultivating a Culture of Learning and Innovation. He is also the author of Measures of Success: React Less, Lead Better, Improve More, the Shingo Award-winning books Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen, and the anthology Practicing Lean. Mark is also a Senior Advisor to the technology company KaiNexus.


  1. My first experience with cycle time was when working at a multistage stamping press and marking a section of the metal strip and following it through the successive stages of the deep draw. The time from flat metal strip to finished piece was cycle time. The number of pieces per minute was the "piece rate". But then others will stand at the end of a process and take the time between two successive pieces and call that cycle time.

    APICS Dictionary defines Cycle Time as: 1) In industrial engineering, the time between completion of two discrete units of production. For example, the cycle time of motors assembled at a rate of 120 per hour would be 30 seconds. 2) In materials management, it refers to the length of time from when material enters a production facility until it exits. Syn: throughput time.

    Oh well…

  2. My experience is that we have had to make sure perspective is clear when we talk about "time". When we are discussing takt time we typically use the phrase "rate of demand" or just "demand" indicating customer perspective at the end of the line.
    When we are talking from the product or service point of view we usually say cycle time (start to end of a single "cycle" usually one processing step). It does get confusing if the perspective is not clear.
    I believe in Shook's "Learning to See" he uses "lead time" to describe "turnaround time". That term (lead) works for me because I think – "How much time do we need to leave in the schedule to get the material (i.e. patient) through the whole process (appointment)."

  3. I prefer using "throughput time" for internal factory elapsed time from start to finish, where I use "lead time" for how long it takes to get something from a supplier (or to a customer) including transportation time.

    We could do a whole other blog post on how people misuse "takt" to mean production rate instead of demand rate.

    Maybe "production rate" and "demand rate" are the best terms to use? Except for hospitals, we need a different term than "production"!!

  4. Although I usually blame APICs for eveything bad (just kidding I don't think we should blame either – although I do get frustrated with my inability to help some APICs certicatees see beyond MRP and square roots of lead times, etc.) I usually use the APICs definition listed above as my definition of cycle time and then I compare that to TAKT and try to get cycle time to just below TAKT time. I usually call the time from beginning work on a piece or patient to finishing that piece or patient throughput time or process time.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.