July 15, 2023
July 15, 2023

What is Lead Time and How to Minimize it

What is lead time? This article explains what lead time is, how it differs from delivery time, and the benefits of shortening it. Read more here.


Lead time is the amount of time it takes for a product to be ordered and delivered. In the logistics industry, the optimization of lead time is a key issue, and correct knowledge and management of lead time can lead to increased profits and productivity. This article provides a comprehensive explanation of what lead time is, from how it is calculated to its merits and demerits.

What is Lead Time?

Lead time, generally speaking, encompasses the duration of each process from start to finish, including production and transportation.

In general, lead time refers to the time between the manufacturing of a product and the completion of delivery, while the details of lead time vary depending on the industry. In the logistics industry, lead time includes the procurement (purchasing), manufacturing, storage, shipping, and delivery of goods.

Maximizing customer satisfaction through shorter lead times

Reducing lead time within the logistics industry can have a direct positive impact on customer satisfaction. As lead time represents the duration it takes for a package to reach its intended recipient, shorter lead times result in quicker deliveries and, consequently, happier customers.

When customers are presented with two products of equal price, the lead time between the order placement and receipt of the package plays a crucial role in customer satisfaction and in influencing their decision-making process. In the current landscape of online shopping, where many companies offer expedited services like next-day delivery, failing to prioritize lead time can place your business at a disadvantage compared to competitors. To differentiate your company and attract repeat customers, it is vital to actively work on shortening lead times, ensuring prompt and efficient delivery services that exceed customer expectations.

Lead time is a focus of attention for e-commerce sites

The rise of e-commerce in recent years has led to heightened focus in lead time management at e-commerce sites.

For large e-commerce players, lead time plays a crucial role in their operations and logistics strategies. They recognize that customers have an increasing demand for fast and efficient product deliveries, with expectations of receiving their orders within a short timeframe, often within a day of placing the order. To meet these customer expectations and stay competitive, companies must adapt their operations by optimizing their supply chain, warehousing, and fulfillment processes. By effectively managing lead time and ensuring quicker order processing and delivery, companies can provide a superior customer experience and maintain a competitive edge in the market.

How to calculate lead time

The exact steps in the forward and backward method may vary depending on the industry and the specific context, but a general approach to calculating lead time for both options includes the following steps:

  1. Identify the Start and End Points: Determine the starting point and ending point for the lead time calculation. The starting point is typically when an order is received or when the production process begins. The ending point is when the product is ready for delivery or when it is available for the customer.
  2. Collect Relevant Data: Gather the necessary data to calculate lead time. This may include the time needed for each stage of the production process, such as order processing, manufacturing, quality control, packaging, and preparation for delivery. Obtain the duration for each stage.
  3. Calculate the Lead Time: Subtract the starting point time from the ending point time to determine the lead time. The most common way to calculate lead time is by subtracting the order request date from the order delivery date.
  4. Consider Business Days: Depending on the context, it may be important to consider business days only. Exclude weekends and holidays from the lead time calculation if applicable.
  5. Refine the Calculation: Analyze the collected data and the lead time calculation. Look for areas of improvement or potential bottlenecks in the production process that may affect lead time. Consider factors like order volume, production capacity, supplier lead times, and any other variables that impact the overall lead time.

It's important to note that lead time calculation can become more complex in scenarios involving multiple suppliers, subcontractors, or complex production processes. In such cases, you may need to consider lead times at each stage and factor in dependencies between different entities involved in the production and delivery process.

Six types of lead time

Lead time can be categorized into six distinct types, as outlined below:

1. Development lead time

The period of time from planning to completion in product development is called "Development lead time”. If a product can be rolled out in line with market trends and released quickly, it will lead to business opportunities and higher profits. 

However, shorter lead time at the development stage is not always better. If problems occur during development, extra costs may be incurred. Therefore, be sure to address the necessary processes, such as the selection of suppliers, development procedures, and procurement of materials.

2. Procurement lead time

The period of time required from "procurement of raw materials --> delivery to the production plant" in a manufacturing company is called “procurement lead time”.

Since a variety of raw materials are required to manufacture products, the procurement lead time must be properly managed. Some products imported from overseas may take a long time to be transported, which is why measures such as requesting suppliers to shorten the lead time are necessary as well. 

3. Production lead time

“Production (manufacturing) lead time” is the period of time from the start of production or manufacturing until a predetermined number of products are produced. If all production is done in-house, the lead time is determined by adjusting employees’ schedules and equipment resources. If parts of the production are outsourced, then the outsourced lead time must also be taken into account.

4. Shipping lead time

The “shipping lead time” encompasses the duration from order processing to packaging and final delivery of products that have undergone production and manufacturing processes. An example of shipping lead time that most people are familiar with is the "delivery within 2 to 3 days" displayed on e-commerce websites.

Since this does not only refer to the period of product delivery, but also includes the picking process, it is important to consider technology to improve efficiency, such as an AS/RS system, in order to shorten the lead time.

5. Purchasing lead time

Purchasing lead time is the interval between when the decision is made to acquire goods and when the goods are received.

In inventory management, it is very important to know the time it will take to receive goods to prevent excess inventory.

6. Delivery lead time

The term "delivery lead time" represents the timeframe starting from an order is placed --> customer delivery.

Disadvantages of long lead times

Longer lead times can pose disadvantages for both companies and customers alike, primarily due to the increased time span between purchase and product arrival. In today's fast-paced e-commerce landscape, where many platforms promise 1-2 day turnaround times from order to delivery, longer lead times can leave customers with a sense of dissatisfaction.

The following sections will elaborate on the drawbacks associated with longer lead times. To effectively reduce lead times, it is crucial to proactively identify the underlying issues and implement appropriate countermeasures.

Loss of sales opportunities

If the product fails to arrive by the expected delivery date, customers are more inclined to abandon their purchase or seek alternative products, resulting in missed opportunities. In situations where multiple companies offer the same product, customers frequently prioritize the company with the shortest delivery time, particularly if there are no notable differences in service quality.

Excess inventory increases costs

When products have long lead times, it can result in the accumulation of large inventories, which in turn incurs storage costs due to overstocking.

When lead times are lengthy, there is also a higher likelihood of having excess goods waiting to be shipped, which can lead to increased inventory management costs. The storage and handling of surplus inventory incur expenses such as warehousing fees, insurance, and potential obsolescence.

Therefore, businesses strive to balance their lead times and inventory levels to optimize costs and operational efficiency. By minimizing lead times and adopting efficient inventory management practices, companies can avoid excessive inventory and associated costs while ensuring timely order fulfillment.

Decreased customer satisfaction

Extended lead times can often result in customers perceiving a prolonged wait for their orders, leading to a negative impact on their overall experience. This, in turn, can make it challenging to retain customers and encourage repeat purchases in certain cases.

Given the rise in the number of e-commerce platforms and the diverse range of services offered today, customers tend to opt for products that provide added value, such as a shorter lead time from the moment of ordering to the actual delivery. Consequently, lead time directly influences customer satisfaction and plays a vital role in their decision-making process.

Advantages of reducing lead time

This section provides the benefits of shortening lead times. Below is a detailed explanation of each of the main benefits, including cost savings and differentiation from the strong competitors, being a point of appeal to customers. 

For instance, shortening lead time can serve as a point of attraction for companies to acquire new customers and retain repeat customers. And if customers purchase products more frequently, it will greatly contribute to the company's sales. 

Reduced product management costs

Shorter lead times mean that inventory will no longer be stored for long periods of time, and therefore, products will no longer be disposed of due to deterioration. Faster turnover of shipments ensures consistent product quality and reduces excess inventory. Then, the warehouse will not be overwhelmed, and a larger work space can be secured. This has the merit of making picking work easier and creating an environment that is less prone to human error.

Moreover, maintaining a sufficient inventory of popular items in the warehouse would prevent any missed sales opportunities caused by inventory shortages.

Easier adaptation to a changing market

Proper inventory management is important to adapt to changing market conditions, such as rising or falling demand, and shortening lead times can solve problems such as excess inventory and shortages. If products can be delivered within a shorter time frame to meet the rising demand, customers are more likely to place orders, potentially leading to an increase in sales. 

Differentiation from competitors will secure repeat customers

By improving delivery services, the company can differentiate itself from competitors and secure more repeat customers. Shorter lead times will enable delivery in the shortest possible time and on the date and time requested by the customer, thereby improving customer satisfaction.

In addition, the increase in repeat customers means more stable sales, which is important from the standpoint of improving overall company profits. However, lead-time reduction must be done in a way that does not lower the quality of operations, since defective delivered goods can lead to complaints and loss of customer trust.

How to reduce lead time

Reducing lead time requires a multi-faceted approach, which involves optimizing staffing levels, reviewing work processes, and leveraging technology. However, it is crucial to implement these measures in a manner that aligns with warehouse management and inventory control. It is important to recognize that modifying isolated processes can have ripple effects on other interconnected operations. Hence, it is vital to collect data and insights that consider the broader logistics operations. This balanced approach ensures the effectiveness of the implemented changes and optimizes overall efficiency.

The following sections will outline various strategies for reducing lead time.

1. Improve technical capabilities through appropriate staffing and training

If lead times are increasing due to labor shortages, this can be resolved by increasing the number of personnel and conducting appropriate staffing. Ensuring an appropriate level of manpower in each process is also crucial for maintaining productivity. Therefore, it's important to regularly check if the number of employees is adequate. Increasing manpower can also lead to an increase in productivity.

If you cannot increase the number of employees, it is also effective to provide training and education to improve each person's ability and reallocate employees according to their skills. By conducting periodic interviews, you can also assign employees according to their abilities and aptitudes, allowing them to demonstrate their capabilities and further improve productivity. 

2. Review the work process

It is crucial to review work processes periodically, especially those that have been in place for a while, as they play a significant role in reducing lead time.

If equipment or systems have been updated, unnecessary processes may have occurred, and lead time may be reduced by reviewing them. In some operations, work processes may not have been created in the first place. However, this is highly recommended if efficiency is to be improved.

3. Create an environment that reduces errors

When employees make numerous mistakes, it is vital to investigate the root causes in order to improve the situation. Mistakes can arise from inadequate location control when merchandise is not placed on the correct shelf or when excessive inventory creates challenges. Even with double-checking procedures in place, these errors can escalate workload demands. Consequently, establishing an environment that minimizes the likelihood of errors is crucial to prevent such occurrences in the first place.

4. Reviewing suppliers and business partners

To minimize lead time in raw material procurement, it is crucial to evaluate suppliers and consider the possibility of transitioning to more efficient ones. Likewise, when collaborating with temporary staffing agencies or transportation companies for deliveries, it is essential to regularly assess their performance to ensure punctual delivery. If the lead time from order placement to delivery proves excessively lengthy, it is advisable to request enhancements or explore alternative suppliers.

5. Automate warehouse operations

Warehouse Automation is perhaps one of the most effective solutions for improving lead times. Warehouse automation offers several benefits that can contribute to faster and more efficient operations, ultimately reducing lead times:

  • Increased Speed and Efficiency: Automation technologies, such as conveyor systems, robotic picking, and automated storage and retrieval systems (AS/RS), can significantly enhance the speed and efficiency of warehouse operations. Automated processes can handle tasks faster and with greater accuracy compared to manual labor, resulting in reduced lead times for order processing, picking, packing, and shipping.
  • Streamlined Order Fulfillment: Warehouse automation allows for seamless order fulfillment processes. Most automated systems can quickly and accurately locate products, retrieve them from storage, and route them for packaging and shipping. By eliminating manual tasks and reducing human error, automation helps expedite order fulfillment, resulting in shorter lead times.
  • Optimized Inventory Management: Automation technologies enable real-time inventory tracking and management. Automated systems can monitor stock levels, track inventory movement, and automate replenishment processes. Accurate inventory management ensures the availability of products, reduces stockouts, and enables faster response times to customer orders, leading to improved lead times.
  • Scalability and Flexibility: Automated warehouse systems are often designed with scalability and flexibility in mind. As business needs evolve, automation can be easily expanded or modified to accommodate changing demands. This agility allows businesses to respond quickly to fluctuations in order volumes, new product launches, or seasonal variations, ensuring optimized lead times even during periods of high demand.
  • Data-driven Insights: Warehouse automation systems generate vast amounts of data that can be leveraged for continuous improvement. By analyzing key performance metrics and operational data, businesses can identify bottlenecks, inefficiencies, and areas for optimization. Data-driven insights empower businesses to make informed decisions, refine processes, and further reduce lead times.

While automation can bring numerous benefits, it's important to note a thorough analysis of the existing operations, cost-benefit analysis, and appropriate technology selection are crucial for successful implementation and achieving improved lead times.

6. Extend the operating hours of logistics operations

One way to reduce lead time is to extend the operating hours of logistics operations, which can be done by increasing the number of personnel or by implementing systems that can operate 24/7.

During peak seasons, normal operating hours may not suffice to keep up with shipment demands, leading to decreased work efficiency. To address this issue, it's recommended to temporarily augment the workforce or implement a system to ensure timely and efficient responses to shipment requests.

Things to keep in mind when shortening lead time

When aiming to reduce lead time, it is important to strike a balance and not focus solely on this aspect. Neglecting product inspections in the pursuit of shorter lead times can lead to a decline in work quality. Therefore, it is crucial to approach lead-time reduction while at the same time considering cost-effectiveness and potential impacts on product quality. By maintaining this balance, businesses can achieve shorter lead times without compromising the quality of their products.

Is it an unreasonable work process?

When striving to reduce lead time, it is crucial to evaluate the work process for any potential inefficiencies that could hinder work efficiency.

Forcing a reduction in lead time without considering the feasibility of the process can lead to an increase in errors that would not typically occur. Rushing through tasks can also heighten the likelihood of accidents. Hence, it is essential to account for factors such as the number of employees available and their skill levels when designing the work process. Taking these considerations into account ensures a balanced approach to reducing lead time while maintaining optimal work quality and employee safety.

Is the cost-effectiveness of the project worth it?

When considering the reduction of lead time through automation or increasing the workforce, it is important to bear in mind the associated labor and installation costs. It is crucial to assess whether the expected benefits outweigh the expenses incurred.

To ensure cost-effectiveness, a thorough evaluation is recommended. This evaluation should consider factors such as the costs of automation installations, ongoing operational expenses, and labor costs. By conducting a comprehensive analysis, it becomes possible to determine whether the investment in lead time reduction measures aligns with the potential sales and benefits.

Are small-lot items missing?

Efficiently managing lead time and inventory for products stocked in small lots presents unique challenges. While shortening lead times offers benefits like improved customer satisfaction, it can also lead to inventory shortages. Companies opting for small lot inventory management to control storage costs face the risk of shortages during temporary closures or production stoppages. Finding the right balance between minimizing lead times and maintaining sufficient inventory levels is crucial.

Surviving in e-commerce: The significance of lead time

Meeting customer needs and surviving in the highly competitive e-commerce industry hinges on providing comprehensive delivery services, with lead time playing a critical role. Many online shoppers expect next-day delivery, and failing to meet their expectations can lead to missed opportunities. To shorten lead time and cater to customer demands, it is essential to review and optimize various logistics processes, including delivery methods and warehouse operations.


This article has provided an explanation of lead time, its calculation methods, and benefits of reducing it. Shortening lead time is crucial for enhancing delivery services and maintaining happy customers. To achieve this, effective strategies include implementing warehouse automation, personnel training and reviewing suppliers.

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