Project Management Guide
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What is lead time?

Lead time is the amount of time a project takes to complete once it begins. For example, when you place an order from an online store, they may promise a latency of two business days. Lead time can be projected, but if things go wrong or the objective changes, lead time can differ from its original projection if there is no plan to correct issues. If your online order is stolen, customer service will have to file a claim and find you an alternative option, which adds to the lead time.

What Is lead time in project management?

Lead time in project management defines a finished, one-time project or the completion of one major portion of the project. It’s often used in Kanban workflows. On a board that uses “To Do”, “Work in Progress”, and “Work Waiting for Next Steps”, the lead time would stretch across all three of these columns. Once the task is added to the board, the clock starts to add up lead time. 

Lead time is often confused with cycle time in Kanban project management so it’s worth mentioning what makes them different. Cycle time measures the time it takes to complete a task once someone has begun working on it. In the example above, the cycle time would stretch across the “Work in Progress” and “Work Waiting for Next Steps” columns. Unlike lead time, cycle time does not begin when the task is added to the board. Instead, it starts once the task itself is worked on.

What is lag?

Lag time is a delay between tasks. If you’ve ever used a slow internet connection, you’re already familiar with this term. Lag is seldom intentional or positive — it often prevents you from moving on to the next step of your project. For example, if you're playing an online multiplayer game, you may experience an occurrence where your actions never complete, or you suddenly teleport to a place your character was a few seconds ago (often called rubber-banding). This is known as "lag" and its occurrence is almost always counterproductive to your goal.

What is a lag in project management?

In project management, lag can happen when two or more tasks that are dependent on each other are slowed down by an error along the way. When one is halted, the others have to wait until the issue is fixed in order to move on. Lag in project management can lead to delayed deadlines and budget issues if you don’t have a backup plan in place ahead of time.

What is the difference between leads and lags in project management?

Leads are the predicted measurement of how long it will take to do something while lags measure how far behind a task or project phase is after it has started. A lead can include many lags but lags do not account for leads. Leads measure what could be and lags measure what is.

What are lead and lag indicators in project management?

Lead and lag indicators in project management help evaluate performance. You can compare your lead indicator to your lag indicator to see what went well and what could have been better. If you have a series of recurring tasks or projects, you can compare past lead and lag indicators to find patterns, implement changes, and continue to improve.