How should you try to optimise cycle time from idea to customer? How can you optimise accessible constraints, and radiate the inaccessible?

The goal of Continuous Delivery is to optimise for cycle time, so that we can reduce lost opportunity costs and improve our time-to-market. However, how do we construct a cycle time strategy, and how might it be implemented without a comprehensive change mandate? A study of Continuous Delivery experience reports and Lean Thinking suggests some common impediments to optimising cycle time:

  1. Excessive rework
  2. Long lead times
  3. Incongruent organisation structure

From the above we can therefore form an ideal cycle time strategy:

Optimise cycle time = optimise product integrity + optimise lead times + optimise organisation

Optimising product integrity is essential as rework has a pernicious influence upon delivery cadence, highlighted by David Anderson stating that “unplanned rework due to bugs lengthens lead times… and greatly reduces throughput“. By using practices such as Acceptance Test Driven Development and root cause analysis as well as applying Continuous Delivery principles such as Build Quality In and Repeatable Reliable Process, we can trim our defect waste and gradually remove rework from the value stream.

Optimising lead times encourages us to recognise that unreleased product increments are valueless inventory, and that we should accelerate our pathway to production until we obtain a First Mover Advantage over our competitors. By introducing Work In Progress limits to reduce batch sizes and employing the Continuous Delivery principles of Automate Almost Everything and Bring Pain Forward, we can curtail our inventory waste and deliver value-adding features to our customers faster.

Optimising an organisation offers both the greatest challenge and the greatest potential for cycle time optimisations, particularly in siloed organisations. Despite being described by Jez Humble as a “response to the historical expense of computing resources and the high transaction cost of putting out a release [that results in] lower software quality, lower production stability, and less frequent releases“, it remains a prevalent model despite its inherent coordination costs. By restructuring our organisation into product-centric, cross-functional teams and instilling the Continuous Delivery principles of Everybody Is Responsible and Continuous Improvement, we can eliminate our wait waste and obtain a significant cycle time reduction.

At the outset of our Continuous Delivery programme, a value stream mapping and analysis of product defects will likely indicate our expected cycle time impediments, and we should present these findings to our stakeholders along with our ideal cycle time optimisation strategy. However, the ambitious scope of our strategy means that without executive sponsorship our change mandate is unlikely to extend to such radical notions as establishing cross-functional teams. In this situation we should use the confines of our mandate to derive an organisation-specific optimal cycle time strategy:

Optimise cycle time = optimise product integrity + optimise lead times + optimise organisation

Rather than being discouraged by the limitations of our mandate, we can use it to guide our optimisation efforts according to constraint accessibility. If we cannot optimise the organisation, we optimise lead times. If we cannot optimise lead times, we optimise product integrity. After each successful change is implemented, we communicate to our stakeholders both the net gain in cycle time and the larger, inaccessible potential improvements:

Optimise the accessible, radiate the inaccessible

In this manner we can gradually build confidence in our Continuous Delivery programme, until our change mandate is broadened to encompass the comprehensive change required to dramatically improve both our cycle time and our product revenues.