From everything I learned while studying industrial engineering, time study is what I have to use the most. Time studies and continuous improvement have always been part of my job. Early in my career, I use time studies to establish or update time standards. Later on, when I started to learn and practice CI, time studies were part of the data collection process. This time, the time study was a component of the process to define the problem under analysis.
Numerous times in my career, I found well-intended people trying to do formal time studies as part of kaizen or continuous improvement activity. There is no need to complicate your life. Nevertheless, it is necessary to follow some basic rules to ensure satisfactory data collection.
Time studies and time standards
Time study or work measurement is a method to establish an allowed time to perform a given task. Frederick Taylor envisioned industrial engineers using time and motion studies to determine the best way to do the job. Standardized work and cycle time reduction are two more of Taylor’s innovations.
While establishing a time standard, industrial engineers would use a detailed process to observe and analyze the method and measure time. The standard calculation includes rating the operator’s performance and applying for allowances. This type of time study seeks to establish a standard used for manufacturing cost and wage calculations. They need to be specific and accurate. The focus is on the process, looking to reduce the cycle and make it more efficient.
Time studies and continuous improvement
On the other hand, when using time studies in continuous improvement, you don’t need to rate performance or use allowances. You are not trying to create a time standard. The purpose is to see if the changes are moving the needle in the right direction. The focus is on the operator and how to reduce his/her pain points. How can you make the work easier and safer? While doing that, you will reduce the cycle time, but that is not the priority.
Although you won’t need to calculate a standard time at this point, you need good data. For that, there are a few steps that you need to follow. Talk with the operator who is completing the process. Explain why you are there and clarify that you will measure the process, not the person. Observe the process and ask questions to understand what he or she is doing. Also, look at the flow of materials and/or the information and learned about the pain points. Your objective is to eliminate waste.
This preliminary work will help you to get familiar with the process. Once you are familiar with it, you can divide it into general steps for further time measurement. You to measure how long it takes to complete a process, before and after the improvements.
Keep it simple
Learning is always better when you keep things simple. Concepts that are too complicated may distract you from the real purpose of the exercise. All you want to accomplish is to get data to compare if the proposed improvements reduce the cycle.
There are many other ways to improve a process besides cycle reduction. Focus on finding the waste within the process. Then look for ways to eliminate or reduce it. Waste reduction will reduce the cycle time while making the process easier, minimize errors, eliminate waiting times, and others. There are two key things for sustainable improvements. First, you need participation from the team doing the work. Nobody knows the process better than them. Second, the focus of the improvement efforts is always the customers, internal and external.