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Work Study; Method Study and Activity Timing (Time and Motion Studies)

Updated on January 19, 2015
LeanMan profile image

I am a trainer and consultant in lean manufacturing, Six Sigma, quality management, and business management.

What is work study (Activity timing and Method Study)

Work study; activity timing and method study are an important part of any lean manufacturing implementation if you wish to design manufacturing cells or balance and improve existing flow lines and cells.

Traditional work study usually involves the use of an industrial engineer standing over an operator with a stopwatch to time the operations involved in producing a product to measure standard times for costing and payment. These times would be used to estimate costs for products and to set production targets that could be used to either reward or penalize the workforce.

Methods used within lean manufacturing try to avoid some of the problems associated with these traditional methods by including the workforce in taking these measurements and using them to help drive continual improvement.

Method Study

Work Study
Work Study | Source

Work Study Video

Traditional Workstudy problems

There were many problems with the traditional methods of work study or the dreaded "time and motion" studies;

They used an “expert” who’s opinion of what should be done and how could often be at odds with the people who actually did the work and so often failed to make improvements to the process.

Their appearance with their stop watches caused an immediate change in behavior by the operators (usually slowing down to ensure that targets were not set too high!)

The targets set were average measurements – 50% of operators would be slower and 50% faster – but management would expect everyone to meet the production targets.

Traditional Time and Motion Studies Often Slow Production

In practice the slower people would fail to meet targets set and the faster more able operators would slow down to only produce the target causing an actual reduction in output!

Where incentive schemes were introduced for exceeding targets the operators would often take “short cuts” such as failing to do quality checks to try to gain bonus leading to higher levels of rejects at the customer.

Industrial Engineering

Activity Timing for Lean Manufacturing

With lean we try to simplify the activity timing as much as possible, we also try to identify the individual work elements and identify them as either adding value or as being non-value adding and wasteful steps to be eliminated or reduced.

Lean manufacturing tools are team tools, by this I mean they should not be used by an expert who comes to town to implement their changes on the workplace; they are for the use of the people involved in the workplace to help them create and agree their own improvements through the use of 5S, Kaizen, smed and a host of other lean manufacturing tools.

Use a Video recorder and do timings with the team after.

So rather than have an industrial engineer stood over the workforce using a stop watch or even the team watching other members with stop watches we can use video to record the process during each shift. Each operator should understand that we are trying to make the process easier and more efficient not just for the companies benefit but for the operators benefit also. The method study and activity timing is undertaken by the team as a whole not by an outside expert.

The video should cover each shift and each operator; the team can then use the video to view differences in methods and to time the elements of each operation as well as identify them as being value adding or non-value adding.

Work elements are the individual steps of the process, picking up a component (non-value adding), loading a fixture (non-value adding but maybe unavoidable), operating the press (value adding), and so on.

Each should be timed at least 10 times to the nearest second and the time used should be the lowest repeated time; so if the operation took – 10, 13, 12, 12, 11, 14, 13, 12, 15, 14 we would select 12 seconds as the lowest repeatable time. Comparisons should be made between operators and between shifts to identify differences in methods used. Elements in which something goes wrong should not be included within the study.

As per 5S the best possible method should be documented on a standard operating instruction to ensure that they are maintained across all shifts and employees and as an aid for training.

Using Work Study

Activity timing Yamazumi chart
Activity timing Yamazumi chart | Source

Continuous process improvement

By identifying each work element as being either value adding or non-value adding we have an opportunity for the teams to either totally eliminate the non-value adding steps or to reduce them making their processes more efficient and also easier and safer for themselves. (Look at this hub about the seven wastes if you want to understand exactly what a non value adding operation is.)

They can also create additional improvements by considering the work method study itself and comparing between shifts and individuals to find the most efficient way. These methods can be used within your kaizen teams to ensure continual improvement of processes.

Using Yamazumi Charts to Smooth Production

In lean we use Heijunka to smooth production to eliminate waste within production. At the cell level we use a tool called a Yamazumi Chart to help design cell layout and to create smooth production flow.

Cell Balancing using Activity Timing

By taking measurements of each work element you are able to review the entire process in line with the customer demand rate or Takt time. By using a tool known as a Yamazumi chart you can balance the work elements of a process between the operators to ensure the optimal number of operators and machine utilization to achieve customer demand.

If one operator has too many work elements and their total time exceeds takt time we can give some of these elements to the operators that either precede or come after them to balance the amount of work between all of the operators in the cell. We aim to achieve around 95% of Takt time for each operator.

This can often mean slowing down some jobs within the process which may seem the wrong way to approach improving efficiency, but the slowing of these processes prevents the buildup of inventory and all of the associated wastes and costs.

Method Study

If you have any questions regarding Work study, activity timing and method study or about lean manufacturing tools and techniques in general please leave them below.


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    • LeanMan profile image

      Tony 19 months ago from At the Gemba

      Hi Gabrie,

      Time and motion studies are basically the "old" methods for setting production rates; but obviously there is always going to be a need for processes including setups to be efficient. So timing will always be a necessary evil within a production environment.

      You will use timing within a Single Minute Exchange of Die project to identify how long each element of the setup takes, after all you are aiming to reduce that time. But with SMED you are going to be doing far more than just timing, you want to be able to identify and remove those steps that add no value at all as well as to reduce the length of time employed on all of the other steps.

    • profile image

      Gabrie 19 months ago

      Hi LeanMan...

      I was wondering if you could clarify the difference between SMED and Time-Motion Studies?

      Thank you!

    • LeanMan profile image

      Tony 2 years ago from At the Gemba

      Hi Ahmed,

      What specifically do you want to know?

    • profile image

      ahmed 2 years ago

      hi lean man what about up time and downtime and takt time thanks

    • LeanMan profile image

      Tony 3 years ago from At the Gemba

      Hi Esmonaco, nice to have an experienced eye coming by and agreeing with me regarding work study methods. Thanks for taking the time to read.

    • esmonaco profile image

      Eugene Samuel Monaco 3 years ago from Lakewood New York

      I agree with your hub 100%, I'm an Industrial Engineer and worked my way up from the manufacturing floor. I've been doing this for the last 30 years, and working in a team environment is the only way to get the job done. I stand by the rule that nobody knows the job better than the person doing the job. Thanks :)

    • LeanMan profile image

      Tony 5 years ago from At the Gemba

      Hi Paula

      It would be far better if the whole team were involved in looking at how to improve the process and doing the timings. One person standing over the others with a stop watch has never gone down very well.

    • profile image

      Paula Smith 5 years ago

      Can this be given to just one member of a team?

    • LeanMan profile image

      Tony 5 years ago from At the Gemba

      Hi Renga, thanks for taking the time to leave a shameless plug for your own site here, no problem I will leave it in place as you so rightly state that using video is the best way for doing time study.

      However I would like to add that trying to over complicate the process defeats the object of the exercise which is to let the operators themselves learn how to do timings to help them better balance their work and identify opportunities for improvement.

    • profile image

      Renga Iyengar 5 years ago

      Work Study is simply a study of the work in a very systematic manner. It is done primarily to increase the knowledge of the work so that it is improved..

      The best method of doing a work study is by doing a Video Work Study with the help of a software. If you want more about VWS pl see sites like

      It will take a day or two know the practical aspects of Work Study, but it is beneficial to all !

    • LeanMan profile image

      Tony 5 years ago from At the Gemba

      Hi Hardik, not quite sure what your question is regarding.

      If you are suggesting that most organizations don't do time study correctly and that it needs to be a highly complicated and robust methodology with confidence limits for timings and other things then you are missing the point of what you are trying to do..

      This is a simple tool to help make process improvements and does not need to be overly complicated, the simplest methods are the best every time. It does not matter if rigorous scientific methodology is used or not, as long as you use a simple repeatable methodology and focus on the results not the method...

    • profile image

      hardik patel 5 years ago

      i wnt name of organization which has conducted time and motion study on basis of scientitfic principles

    • LeanMan profile image

      Tony 5 years ago from At the Gemba

      HI, Thanks for reading. 10 readings are better than one to get a fuller picture of what goes on.

      As to your target goal, there is no problem with re-adjusting your target later if it appears too easy to meet. You need to be looking at a tool called SMED, or Single Minute Exchange of Die if you want to reduce setup times, this will run you through the best approach.

      In my experience it is not unusual to reduce setups from an hour or more down to just a few minutes depending on the industry that you are it, read through the hub on SMED for some ideas, if you need more information feel free to contact me.

    • profile image

      romancingthelion 5 years ago

      Hello LeanMan

      I am newbie to lean practices. I'm currently working on a lead time reduction project using time and motion as a strategy. We don't have a baseline (how much time it takes to do the job) and that is one of the tings that we'd like to get with the "timing" that we have started. Is there any available tools, calculations or methodologies to determine a realistic (lead time reduction) goal? My concern is that if we won't be able to project that using a proven methodology (and just decide on a desired reduction), I might end up readjusting the goal as the project approaches completion. Also, what is the minimum number of data points that I should use to determine the baseline lead time, is it acceptable to run timing the task just once? (I have read somewhere that a minimum of 10 is recommended).

      Thank you so much for this space provided to ask questions.

    • LeanMan profile image

      Tony 6 years ago from At the Gemba

      Hi Wamgqi, I am from the UK but currently living and working overseas.

    • profile image

      wangqi 6 years ago

      LeanMan? What is your nationality?

    • LeanMan profile image

      Tony 6 years ago from At the Gemba

      Thanks for reading Bongani, it is your reason for conducting time studies that is the important factor - if your approach is to get more out of your operators then you are unlikely to get any support from them as they will resent you trying to make them work harder. If however the aim is to improve the workflow and to simplify and improve the processes to make their work easier then they should hopefully support the process.

    • profile image

      BONGANI 6 years ago

      If a mananger ask me, What will your time study approach be when conducting your time studies? what is the positive approach

    • LeanMan profile image

      Tony 6 years ago from At the Gemba

      Ante, if you are planning to improve the process with the involvement of the operators involved in it I have never had any problems with getting their buy in and in fact having them doing the timings from the videos. We are not trying to get them to work faster but to help standardise and improve the process to make it easier for them.

    • profile image

      Ante 6 years ago

      Thanks very much.

      Is video recording a common method for taking time study? I am concerned about how operators will react with that. They might be uneasy...

      Thanks again.

    • LeanMan profile image

      Tony 6 years ago from At the Gemba

      Hi Ante, that is a great situation to have, you can observe any differences between how the different operators do the individual tasks and help them to document and put in place the best methods. Video and time from the video the individual elements of the tasks as performed by each operator.

    • profile image

      Ante 6 years ago

      Hi Mr. LeanMan,

      I would like to know, how should a time study be conducted in a work station where there are more than 1 operator. If for example, there are two operators in a workstation having 3 tasks A, B and C, these operators can say help each other to finish task A and designate tasks B and C to each one of them.

      Thank you very much!

    • LeanMan profile image

      Tony 6 years ago from At the Gemba

      Hi jaysie,

      It is nice that you have taken the time to read some of my hubs, however you have chosen to ask questions about a completely different subject to this hub; work study; method study and activity timing and time and motion studies.

      I have replied to you via email.

    • Jaysie profile image

      Jaysie 6 years ago from Philippines

      Hi good day! Mr LeanMan as i read your hub here ill become more aware about the culture of people living in Middle eastern most specially in Saudi Arabia..

      I love to read it because it can help to all of us here specially for those people who wants to work in middle east, like me it helps a lot!

      MrleanMan im sorry i need your help i just wanna ask some question just need your opinion. I was in UAE from 2007 to 2011 but sad to say that there's something happened to me i met 1 local guy there and the reason why i met him because we need to talk about the job offer but that job offer turns to deportation coz this arab guys he ask me to do w sex w him inside the car but i refused because of that he gave me problem ill make it short they accused me catch me and they deport me to my country i can't comebk coz i had eye scan and finger prints now i have LIFETIME BAN in uae.

      I want to ask do you think my lifetime UAE ban is applies to all gcc countries ??? coz i have too many offers going gcc countries now i want to work in saudi and i feel afraid that maybe because of my ban, i might have problem if ill work gcc pls help me if u know something about ban

      thanks and advance...

    • LeanMan profile image

      Tony 6 years ago from At the Gemba

      Madhumita, thank you for commenting; I am not 100% sure what you are asking, but if you asking where you can use a time and motion study the answer is anywhere that work is done! I hope this is what you want to know, if not please clarify your question about work studies and activity timing and I will give you as best an answer as I can.

    • profile image

      Madhumita 6 years ago

      Time & motion study where do can we use?


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