Lead time

A lead time is the latency between the initiation and execution of a process. For example, the lead time between the placement of an order and delivery of a new car from a manufacturer may be anywhere from 2 weeks to 6 months. In industry, lead time reduction is an important part of lean manufacturing.


Lead time in publishing describes the amount of time that a journalist has between receiving a writing assignment and submitting the completed piece. Depending on the publication, lead times can be anything from a couple of hours to many months.


Lead time (when referring to a disease) is the length of time between detection of a disease through screening and the moment in time where it would have normally presented with symptoms and led to a diagnosis. An example of this is seen with breast cancer population screening, where women who are asymptomatic have a positive test result with mammography, whereas the underlying disease would have taken many more years to manifest.

Supply chain management

A more conventional definition of lead time in the supply chain management realm is the time from the moment the customer places an order (the moment you learn of the requirement) to the moment it is ready for delivery. In the absence of finished goods or intermediate (work in progress) inventory, it is the time it takes to actually manufacture the order without any inventory other than raw materials.


In the manufacturing environment, lead time has the same definition as that of Supply Chain Management, but it includes the time required to ship the parts from the supplier. The shipping time is included because the manufacturing company needs to know when the parts will be available for material requirements planning. It is also possible for lead time to include the time it takes for a company to process and have the part ready for manufacturing once it has been received. The time it takes a company to unload a product from a truck, inspect it, and move it into storage is non-trivial. With tight manufacturing constraints or when a company is using Just In Time manufacturing it is important for supply chain to know how long their own internal processes take.

Lead time is made of:[1]


Company A needs a part that can be manufactured in two days once Company B has received an order. It takes three days for company A to receive the part once shipped, and one additional day before the part is ready to go into manufacturing.

In more detail

Lead Time terminology has been defined in greater detail.[2] The Supply Chain from customer order received to the moment the order is delivered is divided into five lead times.


A restaurant opens up and a customer walks in. A waiter guides him to a table, gives him the menu and asks what he would like to order. The customer selects a dish and the waiter writes it in his notepad. At that moment the customer has made an order which the restaurant has accepted – Order Lead Time and Order Handling Time have begun. Now the waiter marks the order in the cash register, rips the paper from the notepad, takes it into the kitchen and puts into the order queue. The order has been handled and is waiting in the factory (kitchen) for manufacturing. As there are no other customers, the waiter decides to stand outside the kitchen, by the door, waiting for the dish to be prepared and begins calculating Manufacturing Lead Time.

Meanwhile, the chef finishes what he was doing, takes the order from the queue, starts his clock as a mark for the start of Production Lead Time and begins cooking. The chef chops the vegetables, fries the meat and boils the pasta. When the dish is ready, the chef rings a bell and stops his clock. At the same time the waiter stops calculating Manufacturing Lead Time and rushes through the kitchen door to get the food while it is hot.

When he picks it up, begins counting of Delivery Lead Time that ends when the dish is served to the customer, who can now happily say that the Order Lead Time was shorter than he had expected.

Order lead time

When talking about Order Lead Time (OLT) it is important to differentiate the definitions that may exist around this concept. Although they look similar there are differences between them that help the industry to model the order behavior of their customers. The four definitions are :

OLT Definitions[6]

OLT formulas

The OLTRequested will be determined by the difference between the date the customer wants the material in his facilities (wish date) and the date when they provided its order to the supplier.

The OLTQuote will be determined by the difference between the date the customer agree to receive the material in their facilities (Quote date) and the date when the order is provided to the supplier.

The OLTActual will be determined by the difference between the day the provider deliver the material (Delivery date) and the date when they enter the order in the system.

The OLTConfirmed will be determined by the difference between the date the confirmed date by the provider to deliver the material in the customer facilities (Confirmed date) and the date when they provide the order to the supplier.

Average OLT based on volume

The Average OLT based on Volume (OLTV) is the addition of all the multiplications between the volume of product we deliver (quantity) and the OLT divided by the total quantity delivered in the period of time we are studying for that specific facility.

By doing this the company will be able to find a relation of volume weighted between the quantities of material required for an order and the time requested to accomplish it. The volume metric could be applied to the 4 types of OLT.
The figure obtained from this calculation will be the average time (e.g. in days) between order placing and the requested delivery date of a specific customer under consideration of the average quantities ordered during that particular time.

Potential application areas for order lead time measurement

The correct analysis of OLT will give the company:

Project management

In project management lead time is the time it takes to complete a task or a set of interdependent tasks. The lead of the entire project would be the overall duration of the critical path for the project.

Lead time is also the saved time by starting an activity before its predecessor is completed.

According to the PMI (2008), lead is a dependency between two activities (p. 140).[7] An example would be scheduling the start of a 2-week activity dependent with the finish of the successor activity with a lead of 2 weeks so they will finish at the same time.

See also


  1. Lead Times. "Lead times in supply chain" Supply Chain Consultant Website.
  2. Rajaniemi, J. (2012) www.leadtimes.org Lead Time Terminology in Manufacturing.
  3. Kumar, A. (1989). Component inventory costs in an assembly problem with uncertain supplier lead-times. IIE transactions, 21(2), 112-121.
  4. Gunasekaran, A., Patel, C., & Tirtiroglu, E., 2001 "Performance measures and metrics in a supply chain environment." International journal of operations & production Management 21, no. 1/2: 71-87.
  5. 2)Cousens, A., Szwejczewski, M., & Sweeney, M. 2009. "A process for managing manufacturing flexibility." International Journal of Operations & Production Management, 29(4), pp.357-385.
  6. 1 2 3 4 Silva, L., 2013, "Supply Chain Contract Compliance Measurements" Master thesis (work in progress), Aalto University, Finland.
  7. PMI. (2008). A guide to a project management body of knowledge (4th. ed.). The Project Management Institute. Newton Square, PA: PMI Publications.
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