An early paper I wrote on the economic impact of process decisions (see attempted to outline how cycle time is impacted by development process choice and how it has altered over the years from the early 1990’s to the current day. I often get asked why this is useful, and decided to take a shot at providing a teaching framework for helping other understand it, and why they care.

I just release the Traffic Light Simulator. This spreadsheet shows the eventual travel time for cars traveling along a commute to work that has five traffic signals. Playing and varying the probability of hitting each light, and the delay time incurred if that happens, the simulator shows a histogram of how many cars achieve the allowable travel times. It also shows a detailed map of all of the possible situations cars may encounter. The lucky ones get all green lights, the unlucky get all red.

Get the Traffic Simulator Spreadsheet here. (plain excel spreadsheet)

Set the probability of up to 5 delays and see the impact on the cycle-time (travel time) distribution

Understand how many cars are impacted by red and green traffic signals, and how this plays out into different probabilities

Exercises to learn how different process decisions about delays impacts cycle time

Many real world processes, like car travel, follow this general pattern. A general amount of expected time if things go well, plus a number of possible delays. Possible delays are expressed as probabilities, 0% never, to 100% always. Software development work is one such process. Work we undertake has a hands-on time, plus a number of possible circumstances that slow that work down. By understanding how delays cascade into eventual cycle time, we can make smarter decisions about what improvement ideas are more likely to work than others.

This is an active area of exploration for me in 2017. My hypothesis is that given just the evident cycle time distribution currently exhibited by teams, the process can be identified. This spreadsheet has five other hypotheses, and I’m interested in hearing reasons why they are wrong.

For now, I’m just starting to fill the spreadsheet with interesting exercises. There are two at the moment. One gets you to find the delay probabilities that cause an Exponential distribution common to service and operations teams. The second exercise gets you to define delay probabilities that causes a moderate Weibull distribution common to software development teams.

Exponential style distribution – common for operations and support teams

Weibull style distribution – common for software development teams

Learning why cycle time distributions match either Exponential or a skewed Weibull gives solid evidence what improvement factors might work. For example, If the distribution looks skewed Weibull, it’s likely that the estimates of effort WILL NOT correlate to the cycle time. This is because the process is dominated by delays, and the amount of time spent actually hands-on the work in minor in comparison to idle time. Solving the reasons for the delays is the best avenue for improvement. If the current cycle time distribution is Exponential, then work time dominates the cycle time. Automation and more people are the better ways to decrease cycle time and throughput in these cases.

Get the Traffic Simulator Spreadsheet here. (plain excel spreadsheet)

It is early days, and I’m sure there are more insights. I’m hoping you join me for that journey.