Time Observations - without Rigor, It's Just Industrial Tourism

It happens way too often. Folks who are ostensibly conducting time observations frequently:

          • don't appreciate the full importance of the exercise,
          • are not properly trained in how to conduct time observation methods (and the the related spaghetti charts, percent load charts and standard ops forms), and/or
          • are  just too lazy to do a thorough job.

The first two conditions are more straightforward in nature, the last, well...that's a behavioral issue.  In any event, insufficient rigor will hamstring the effort to identify waste within a given process. A prior Gemba Tales post, Time Observations - 10 Common Mistakes, covers a lot of relevant ground here.

Lack of rigor and technical know-how can yield some very bad things - not the least of which are marginally useful time observations. This means that individuals and teams can come up with a stilted understanding of the studied process, miss or incorrectly identify the waste and opportunities, develop a less than least way post-kaizen future state standard work or...even worse, create new standard work that is going to go through tremendous adjustment during the PDCA process because it does not square with reality. Think "rework " here.

So, what drives me absolutely crazy? Lazy observers! [By the way, here we assume that the time observation is worth doing in the first place (right scope, worthy target,  appropriate tool, etc.)]

We cannot be proponents of industrial tourism. Time observations require hard work and a good dose of stamina.

Hey, stopwatches are much more difficult to operate than one would think and breaking down the target process into the smallest observable elements is a pain in the neck. Observing multiple cycles, so necessary to getting a handle on variation (and thus opportunity), means more time on your feet, more writing and attention firmly directed on a process which may be as exciting as watching paint dry…in perhaps extreme heat, cold, noise, whatever. Following the operator or worker EVERYWHERE can also be a drag. And observing a process that has varied work content based upon different factors (such as warehouse picks from high bay versus low bay locations)  … can make it even more maddening.

My answer? Suck it up! Grind it out! Man-up (not really politically correct, but you know what I mean)!

It’s not that I am without empathy. I have personally conducted countless time observations of cycles that were many hours in duration, sported crazy variation and permutations, etc. It was at times, very, very painful. But, you really can't get the proper insight into the waste and opportunities within a process without such a personal investment, and without going to the gemba. In fact, genchi genbutsu, "go and see for yourself" ...and help facilitate that seeing with the rigorous application of a time observation form.

Don't be a tourist! You owe an A-plus effort to yourself and most importantly, in the spirit of humility and respect for the individual, you owe it to the other stakeholders - the person(s) that you observe,  teammates, customer, etc. You must pragmatically conduct the best time observations you possibly can.

What do you think? Am I too demanding here?

There are 6 Comments

David's picture

Mark, have to agree 100% with you, I've not seen you this passionate about a topic before and I understand your frustration. As with all processes we need standard work around everything and this is probably one area that gets over looked far too often. I know in the future it's an area where we need to improve and I for one will be much stricter in this area when it comes to our kaizen prep work. Without these observations we are wasting everybody's time!

markrhamel's picture

Hi David,

Thanks for the comment! Oh, I can pretty ticked off at times, but I usually keep it in check.

The important thing is that we all learn from our experiences - PDCA, everyday. In the specific situation that you're referencing (a little inside information here, folks), I think it's more a challenge in participant technical know how. So, we need a bit more rigor in the teaching and practicing and with that, demonstration that the skills and necessary insight are resident.

In any event, Ireland and Guinness rocks!

Best regards,

markrhamel's picture

Hi Brian,

"How can I help you develop patience?" Excellent, I love that! Nice coaching technique.

I think no patience = lack of humility or at least a gross lack of appreciation for direct observation. That's a non-starter for any potential lean leader. I wish you luck with the conversion process.

Best regards,

Brian Buck's picture

Not too demanding at all.

I recently caoched a new leader who told me she intellectually understood the need to go to gemba but stated she "just doesn't have the patience to stand and watch something". I think I suprised her by asking what I can do to help her develop the patience. I was not going to let her keep that excuse to avoid gemba.

Dale Savage's picture

Too demanding? Absolutely not. This is also one of my pet peeves. It is frustrating to everyone involved, especially the operators of the processes, when time studies are not done correctly. Sometimes it is know-how, which can be corrected with training, but more often I find it to be an issue of pride - the person doing the study "already knows" what is happening and what the improvement items should be. That is when changes are made to a process based on assumptions that actually do not deal with the reality of the situation. In turn that creates cynicism in the associates which results in lack of trust in those who are proposing changes. This increases opposition to change overall, something which does not need any encouragement. So, it can be seen that lack of attention to time studies can have long-reaching effects. Again, are you too demanding? ABSOLUTELY NOT.

markrhamel's picture

Hi Dale,

Thanks for your comment! Sounds like we both share the same perspective. You have articulated my "pain" very well...because you have experienced it.

Sounds like you are a great lean coach.

Best regards,