What is Work Item Age?
Updated: Jul 20, 2022
Work Item Age is the elapsed time since the work item started. Work Item Age is one of four key flow metrics along with Cycle Time, Throughput, and WIP (aka work in progress).
You can group these metrics into two pairs. Every completed item counts towards Throughput and has a Cycle Time where as every item still in progress counts towards WIP and has a Work Item Age.
Work Item Age is, arguably, the most important flow metric because controlling age can result in significantly higher levels of predictability. In short, if you can only measure and manage one thing, make it Work Item Age.
How do you calculate Work Item Age?
To begin calculating Work Item Age, you need to have a defined process with two specific points identified:
Your Start Line – or the point in your process in which items are considered started
Your Finish Line – or the point in your process in which items are considered complete
When you have those points defined, you can identify your WIP as they will be the work items between those two points.
When you have those points defined, you can identify your WIP. They are the work items between those two points. You measure the age of each work item using the following calculation:
(Now – Start TU) + 1
TU stands for Time Unit. You can use any granularity you'd like: seconds, minutes, hours, days or more. Why do we add 1? By adding one, this allows us to include both the start and the finish time unit in the Work Item's age so no time is left out.
Work Item Age is the total elapsed time from start to today. This means it includes active working time as well any time that a work item is sitting there idle no matter the cause. So, whether work is waiting on someone, you’re blocked by a technical issue, or being interrupted by evenings and weekends, the time is included in an item’s Age.
Work Item Age is important to track for any team who wants to become more predictable. At its core, Work Item Age is a process improvement metric. When you see items aging more than expected, you can experiment with tactics to see if they help. There is no single fix but common tactics include limiting WIP, controlling work item size, reducing dependencies, and more.
Once you manage Work Item Age, your Cycle Time data should stabilize and make forecasting easier!
If you’re looking for a tool to help you track your flow metrics and improve your process, try out ActionableAgile for free. Don’t forget to reach out if you’re interested in joining our customer success program!