4 Flow Metrics You Need to Know to Deliver Value Faster

Iva Krasteva

Iva Krasteva

SEO & Content Creator Expert

Table of Contents:

Delivering value quickly and efficiently is not just an advantage; it's a necessity. As 73% of customers expect companies to understand their needs (Salesforce), and 90% of CX leaders acknowledge that customer expectations are at an all-time high (HubSpot), it's clear that the ability to deliver promptly and effectively is directly linked to customer satisfaction.

But how do you gauge the speed and efficiency of your delivery? The answer lies in understanding and monitoring your 'flow' - a concept critical in Agile project management.

In this article, you will find a compiled overview of:

  • What is "flow" in Agile project management context?
  • What are the flow metrics and why are flow metrics important?
  • How can you measure flow in practice?

This article will equip you with the knowledge and tools to enhance your delivery process, meet rising customer expectations, and ultimately drive your business forward.

What Is Flow in Agile Project Management?

Continuous improvement is one of the foundational pillars of applying the Agile approach to project management. The goal is to enable greater value delivery, and some of the means to do that are the proper use of flow metrics and optimization of the work process.

Unlike the traditional approach to project management, where the focus is on individual performance, managing projects in an Agile environment requires systems thinking. In other words, all processes are intertwined, and flow optimization means improving both single and multiple teams' performance.

What Are Flow Metrics?

Flow metrics provide insights into how effectively and efficiently a process or system delivers value to the customer. By analyzing these metrics, organizations can make informed decisions to streamline operations, reduce waste, and improve product delivery times. They are central to Lean thinking because they help visualize and quantify aspects of the workflow that are critical for continuous improvement.

Here are the essential Lean-derived flow metrics.

1. Cycle Time and Lead Time

Cycle time metric monitors a work item from the moment it goes to “in progress” to the moment of completing the work, and lead time measures the period between the appearance of a new work request in a workflow and its final departure from the system.

Both cycle time and lead time answer questions such as "How long does it take to complete a certain amount of work?" Using these metrics, you can map your optimization efforts to ultimately deliver value faster.

cycle time and lead time

2. Throughput

The metric represents the consistency of your delivery rate or how much work you can deliver per a given time period (day, week, month, quarter). Understanding your team's delivery pace will enable better predictability and more accurate forecasts. A good practice is using a system that enables you to accumulate historical throughput data so you can better support your decision-making.

3. Work In Progress

Work in progress provides insights into how much active work lives in your system. The greater the number of unfinished tasks - the greater your cycle time. Measuring work in progress shows how work moves through the various stages of your flow. You can use it to quickly analyze work items that have a high risk of being delayed, monitor the changes in your pace, and spot if there are stages where too much work gets accumulated (bottlenecks).

4. Flow Efficiency (Bonus)

The ratio of the value-adding time to the total lead time required to complete a work item. It highlights the proportion of time spent adding value as opposed to waiting or fixing errors.

Why Are Flow Metrics Important?

Flow metrics are essential tools in the Lean toolkit, enabling organizations to measure, analyze, and improve the flow of value to customers. Analyzing the big picture provides an understanding of how work gets done and supports establishing a stable workflow. Most of all, the accumulated historical data is an asset for any team.

With metrics, you can answer complex questions:

  • How predictable is your process?
  • Where does work get stuck?
  • How efficient are your teams?
  • How much work can your teams deliver for a given period?

What Are the Benefits of Measuring Flow?

Furthermore, flow metrics can be beneficial to every organization and team in the following ways:

  • Identify and Eliminate Waste: By pinpointing where delays, bottlenecks, or inefficiencies occur, organizations can focus on eliminating these wastes.
  • Increase Process Predictability: By systematically analyzing workflow data, flow metrics allow to create more stable processes and, thus, contribute to faster delivery.
  • Improve Customer Satisfaction: By reducing lead times and improving reliability, companies can better meet customer expectations.
  • Support Process Optimization: Flow metrics guide decisions on process improvements, capacity adjustments, and workflow optimizations.
  • Enhance Flexibility and Responsiveness: Understanding flow helps organizations adapt more quickly to changes in demand or priorities.

4 Ways You Can Use Flow Metrics in Practice

Whether the context is single or multiple teams, proper measuring of your workflow depends on the number of accumulated work items within your flow.

"The size of a team does not matter, the number of work items delivered is what matters."

Dimitar Karaivanov, CEO Businessmap

How to Use Cycle Time Metrics?

Cycle time begins at the moment when the new work enters the "in progress," and somebody is actually working on it.

This is one of the most valuable metrics when it comes to analyzing your work process. When monitored, cycle times enable insights into your team's production rate - are you getting slower or faster over time. Based on those observations, you can provide more accurate forecasts about future work delivery.

Another great benefit of measuring the cycle time of your workflow is that you get a view of the stages where work spends the most time. Understanding where work gets stuck for the longest time will give you the base for investigating root causes, so you can aim at overall process improvement.

To do that, at Businessmap, we use the Cycle Time Heat Map, for example. It allows us to identify in which stages work spends the most time, allowing us to uncover bottlenecks and continuously aim at alleviating them.

cycle time heat map

Number of days that work spends in each work stage shown using the Cycle Time Heat Map

How to Use the Throughput Metric?

Throughput measures the number of work items passing through a system over a specific period of time.

Striving to increase the delivery rate will always be on the table for Agile project managers. Looking into the number of work items you can complete over a given period of time will allow you to draw conclusions about how the work is distributed over time. Using historical data for measurement can ultimately help you analyze your delivery capabilities and where to improve to achieve better predictability.

The analysis of the throughput metric in Businessmap, for example, provides enhanced visualization of the throughput data distribution. It offers insights into the trends and patterns of a process which can be used as a basis for its improvement. The Throughput Histogram as well as the Throughput Run Chart offer a variety of customization options and are ideal for presenting data during service delivery team meetings.

average weekly throughput

Average weekly throughput trend shown using Throughput Run Chart

How to Use the Work In Progress (WIP) Metric?

WIP indicates the number of work items in a given system that are in progress and shows the capacity of a team.

Understanding the impact of the work in progress is key to unraveling the full potential of the continuous improvement mindset. The number of work items in progress corresponds directly with your completion time (cycle time) and rate (throughput). That's why limiting the amount of work in progress helps you become more effective in completing tasks (increasing throughput) and reducing your cycle time. Furthermore, continuously measuring your WIP will introduce visibility over your team's work capacity.

The Aging WIP chart in Businessmap for instance, shows the items that are currently in our process and how we are driving those items to completion compared to the past.

According to Agile best practices, monitoring the Aging WIP daily enables analysis of where tasks might spend more time compared to similar occasions in the past. That's a trigger for a team's discussion and course-correcting actions, if necessary.

aging wip chart

In-progress work items' state shown using the Aging WIP chart

How to Use the Flow Efficiency Metric?

Flow efficiency is the ratio between value-adding time and the lead time required to complete work.

In Lean/Agile management, measuring the efficiency of your workflow is crucial. The metric represents the ratio between value-adding and the entire request-to-delivery time (which includes non-value-adding time as well). In other words, how much time does your team spend actively working on tasks, and how much time is the work waiting on something?

Rather than creating reports manually, powerful project management tools offer quicker, smarter, and visually appealing ways to get all this data. For instance, with the Flow Efficiency Chart in Businessmap, we can visualize queueing (waiting) stages, and track how efficiently work items flow through the process. It enables us to act if we find that more work accumulates non-value-adding rather than value-adding time.

Flow Efficiency

Flow Efficiency chart including "queueing stages" of a workflow

Wrap Up

We hope that you are now intrigued to learn more and experiment with the flow metrics. It will help you better understand how work flows and set a predictable work process with an emphasis on continuous improvement.

Equipped with the needed knowledge of where to start - with your flow metrics, look at the big picture, figure out your optimal flow, and improve.

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Iva Krasteva

Iva Krasteva

SEO & Content Creator Expert

Analytical. Driven by constant learning and knowledge. Fascinated by people's creativity. Admiration for intellectual property, copywriter and SEO. Passion for nature's beauty, comic books, pop art and cinema.