Updated: Oct 3, 2022
You must have heard the saying, “Do more with less”. This four-letter phrase haunts many employees. In a Lean Six Sigma setting, doing more with less means being more efficient. Conducting a time study is a way of understanding a person’s workload and answers two questions:
Where do you spend your time?
What are all the different things you do?
The three main misconceptions employers have when understanding what their employees do are:
Mistake it as a headcount reduction exercise, which it is not. There is a 95% chance that employees are currently working way more hours than the 40 hour-week they get paid for!
Survey employees instead of spending the time to conduct a time study. When you ask someone what they do, they will give you a high-level answer or recount the recent tasks they completed because they are still in their heads. They will forget to mention key tasks they did!
Survey managers instead of employees are even worse because the manager has an idea of what they are doing but does not know everything. I’ve had managers sit with their employees for a day to see what they do. At the end of the day, the managers always look surprised because they had no idea how their employee spent their workday.
Ideally, you want to have people working on tasks that bring value to the company and its customers. You want to ensure the people have the skills they need to perform the work effectively and efficiently.
Performing a time study is a 4-step process:
Understanding the tasks that make time fly at work
Looking at value-added or non-value-added tasks
Discover if your workload is leveled
Establishing standard work for job function
STEP 1: Understanding the tasks that make time fly at work
Recording your tasks and time using two different strategies:
a. You start your day with a blank sheet of paper and write down every task you do along with the time it took to complete it. Not every day is the same so you will record it for a week or two. For example, on Monday’s you meet with the leadership team for 1 hour and do a factory walk in the afternoon for 3 hours. Your staff meeting is every Wednesday for 2 hours. Friday is when you work on improvement projects. You cannot have a reliable time study if you only record one day's worth of tasks. Ideally, you should record until you are certain to have documented all tasks on paper.
b. You may have standard work in place or procedures documented for every day work. If this is the case, then you can list the tasks you do in one column and keep the second column for recording the duration of the task at hand. If by any chance some new task comes up while recording time, then add it on to the list.
STEP 2: Looking at value-added or non-value-added tasks
Now that the record is complete, you will identify those that are your immediate responsibility or associated to your job description as value-added. In the world of Lean Six Sigma, you may want to use the Yamazumi tool to help you visualize how much value-added tasks versus non-value-added tasks are done. You ask the question, “Would the customer pay for this?” If it is needed or contributes to a customer’s final product or service, then it is value-added.
The reason you are placing time next to the tasks is so you can calculate the percentage of value-added effort you are doing today. For example, if you are to answer customer questions, this would be value-added. If you need to call them back because you did not have the information in front of you, then you start contacting different departments to figure it out, this time is considered wasteful. Ideally, you want to be able to have all the information you need at your fingertips so you can spend your time responding to customer requests, making them happy and gaining their loyalty. All the steps you take to figure it out is considered non-value added.
Once you know what your non-value-added tasks are, then you are going to need to use problem-solving methods to remove them from your daily work list.
STEP 3: Discover if your workload is leveled
This is always a surprise to managers and leaders in a company. What?! You are working longer hours? Really? Well, we need this done so thanks for doing it over the weekend. Wouldn’t it be nice in today’s world if you could finish your work and have balance in your life?
When justifying your workday, it is powerful to show it with a bar graph (or as mentioned in step 2 using the Yamazumi tool):
how much time you spend in a day
color-code how much of it is value-added / non-value-added
Remember that if your non-value tasks are really things that are value-added for another job description or department, then point it out. This is where you get them to agree that you need help to remove the non-value-added tasks so you can focus more on the value-added ones within working hours. On the other hand, if the non-value-added tasks are waste within your task, then you need to remove.
If you want to dive into Lean Six Sigma methods, you can also conduct a Heijunka, popular in manufacturing, which is used to leveling the workload.
STEP 4: Establishing standard work for job function
Once you get help and remove some of the non-value-added tasks, you will be establishing a new way of working for yourself. You should be focused on what your job function entails while the other tasks deemed non-value or not part of your job get removed from your workload. You then create standard work which dictates your tasks.
Many companies look at growing organically, where their first step is adding more work onto their employees before they decide to go hire a new person. This makes sense because the existing employees have the expertise and there is not time delay due to training new staff. To avoid getting burned out or burning out your employees, conducting a time study effectively will ascertain if it is possible to take on more work. This is a way of doing more with less!
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