Knowing how to manage lead time is a skill pivotal for a slew of professions. It is tied to cost-saving efforts and proper supply chain management. In that way, it aids you in completing each customer’s order and following the critical path.

In broader terms, lead time is the period you can use to kick-start a dependent activity. Hence, it refers to saving time when you don’t have to wait for a predecessor activity to complete. This metric also includes the total time needed to fulfill the said task.

Hence, companies measure how long it takes to turn raw materials into products. The successor activity is often the later stages of the manufacturing process. Therefore, both lag and lead time affect the project schedule.

Usual Pitfalls and How to Address Them

Calculating project management lead time is often the key to avoiding supply delay. Otherwise, you might face issues with the client’s satisfaction levels and inventory management. Plus, the start-to-start dependency group will fall off-balance.

Here are some other benefits of utilizing lead time:

  • Use a lead time formula to spot bottlenecks safely
  • Calculate lead time for error-fee project schedule management
  • Potential advance in relation to the competitors
  • Finishing a task ahead of schedule can impress the sponsors
  • Get to the later project phase quickly and save processing time
  • Certain types of products warrant a shorter lead time

How to Improve the Production Lead Time

The total lead time should be around the zero mark for greater productivity. Thus, a manufacturing company should schedule compression techniques. That way, they’ll be able to tag all finish-to-start relationships correctly.

This also leads to little or no downtime between activities. Hence, it’s a frugal method that project managers implement to evaluate performance better. Still, you’ll need the necessary resources to compress the manufacturing time.

Practical Tips and Tricks

Craft a Time-Saving Network Diagram

Although some tasks will depend on the predecessor activity, you can save time elsewhere. For example, assume that task nb. 2 depends on the completion of task nb. 1.

In that case, consider starting task nb.3 at the same time as task nb. 1. Spotting such project management lead time opportunities is a handy skill to develop.

Slim Down the Action Plan

Even after a detailed planning phase, some tasks may prove obsolete later on. Therefore, the project manager should identify and remove them. Obviously, if such an activity begins, its initial costs might ultimately cost you.

Properly Set Up Internal Team Channels

Managers follow a set of four approaches to smooth out the workflow:

1. Assign fitting roles for each team member. Not every person is the best choice for a job, so know your strengths beforehand. On that point, demand that each member stresses out their issues.

2. Manage the team’s overall skills. Generally, try to assign advanced tasks to the most effective teams. However, consider scheduling cross-training events as well.

3. Aim for transparency in all operations. The company’s goals should be a converging point for all departments’ efforts. Thus, pass on the latest briefs and get everyone on the same page. The quality of the finished product should be a testament to such teamwork.

4. Micromanage each project team. The critical path method asks that each moving part perform as it should. Hence, move people around and sign them new roles if necessary.

Work on a Feasible Set of Goals

You shouldn’t overburden the team even if a client suddenly changes courses. Instead, let the client know that implementing sharp changes will lead to a delay.

In the end, you’ll ensure customer satisfaction by being honest.

Set Clear Guidelines

No person should feel lost when assessing what to do next. Instead, they should always have a clear path to follow toward the next goal. This is essential even during a one-time project.

Calculate Buffer Times

This is the safety net or extra time you reserve for a task. Hence, overstepping those boundaries won’t put you off the track by much. However, correctly assessing the buffer is a matter of experience, above all else.

Aim for a Busy Schedule Without Any Delays

There shouldn’t be any work waiting during billing hours. To craft such an action plan, follow this baseline:

  • Figure out the scope of the project
  • Schedule productive activities
  • Utilize the latest task management tools
  • Aim for quality over quantity
  • Follow the initial project outline
  • Put together experienced team members
  • Try to work on two activities simultaneously
  • Enforce strict quality control channels
  • Build effective communication routes
  • Carefully review a finished project
  • Continuously inspire the team via fresh examples

The Differences Between Lead Time and Lag Time

Lag time is the idle period after a predecessor activity finishes, but the follow-up cannot commence. As for the term, it comes from the “lagging internet connection” phenomenon. As such, lag time is a negative consequence that you should make up for.

However, both lead and lag time are common in project management. Thus, managers try to use all outcomes to gain further advantages. That means that even lag time can serve as actionable reference points. Here are some common examples of lag time:

  • Lag due to outside conditions. In construction, various materials are necessary for completing the work. Yet, bad weather can prolong their arrival at the site. This results in lag time as the team waits for the materials.
  • Unavoidable roadblocks. Sometimes, the type of project comes with built-in pain points. These often become physical constraints that block the start of the next phase. For example, a long setting time that you can’t hasten.
  • Date-dependent tasks. Some tasks must resume on a given date and not before. Hence, the team must wait for an event before getting the go-ahead.

How to Separate the Lead and Lag Times

In short, lead time is the expected time for a task to complete. In comparison, the lag time is how long it takes for the effort to conclude. Hence, the lead time is a kind of goal that should influence your performance.

In a network diagram, both methods appear as signs. Since lag time refers to a period that you should add, it results in a “+” sign. Lead time is the time saved, so it’s denoted as a “-” that you subtract from the total sum.

Conclusion on Project Management Lead Time

When figuring out a feasible project timeline, both lead and lag time find much usage. If done correctly, you can assess the project’s total duration. This translates directly to the network activity that follows the current progress.

There are numerous lag indicators in every project, yet teams can’t always act on them. Often, there isn’t a workaround for certain task dependencies. However, you can focus on finishing one task as fast as possible to gain some leeway. When doing so, you’ll utilize both lead and lag time as numeric values.

Aside from that, these metrics allow you to measure the team’s efficacy. A project can have many stages, and the team can sometimes fall behind schedule. Calculating lead and lag times can highlight where things went wrong. As a result, you can easily shoot for a more positive number next time.

If you liked this article talking about project management lead time, you should check out this one about project management for non-project managers.

I also wrote about similar topics like operations management vs project management, gold plating in project management, monitoring in project management, forward pass in project management, and scheduling techniques in project management.

I like project management a lot so I also wrote about project management OKRs and contingency planning in project management.


I'm the manager behind the Upcut Studio team. I've been involved in content marketing for quite a few years helping startups grow.