Understanding the relationships between different nodes in your production chain and how a small delay in one part of the company can have a major impact on another area is important for a good leader. Unfortunately, as the size of an organization grows, the complexity of those relationships tends to follow in an exponential manner. Without a good tool that gives you an adequate overview of those relationships, you can easily find yourself running an organization that’s way below the norm in terms of efficiency, and is wasting a lot of resources.
The Basics of Time Studies
A time study is just what it sounds like – a detailed investigation into the different timings involved in the everyday work at your facilities. This is often done by taking precise measurements of how long each part of the process takes, as well as the duration required to switch between processes and contexts. The point is to end up with a detailed graph that shows exactly how resources flow from one process to another, and identifies where potential bottlenecks could be.
Digging into the Details
Once you see a clear chart of your production times lined up one after the other, you may start to notice some patterns. Maybe one unit is waiting a long time for the output of another, and remains idle for that duration. Or perhaps certain communication times can be shortened by eliminating nodes of the chain and getting specific departments to talk to each other directly instead of using intermediaries.
Once you’ve got that overview, you can start looking for ways to shorten the lengths of some processes. Depending on how your timing data is structured, it may be easy to draw up a diagram that shows how all processes are linked to each other – e.g. process A takes its input from process B, but must wait for process C to complete before it can start, and so on.
Visualizing the timing data can be a very powerful tool for identifying the more complicated bottlenecks, and it can quickly show you if you’re spending too much time on a specific part of the overall process. If you find it difficult to present your current data in a graphical form adequately, you might want to look into revising your data collection practices.
Identifying Critical Times
The goal of the whole exercise is to identify places where you can safely shorten the duration of a process without impacting the overall system negatively. Keep in mind that in this case, “process” can also refer to the transfer of a resource from one component to another. Shortening those times can sometimes be as simple as rearranging the physical layout of the production floor in some way, although it’s not always as easy as that.
It’s important to identify the “critical” time for each process line, that is, the absolute minimum its duration can go before running into problems. You should never keep things at this minimal level though, as this leaves you with no free room for adjustments in the future in case you need to shift things around to deal with a new unexpected bottleneck.
Another thing to keep in mind is that shortening certain durations too much can lower the morale of some of your workers if they’re being pushed to their limits. It’s a different story with machine-driven processes, but be very careful when modifying the timing of something that’s done by humans.
Some organizations push these ideas to the extreme and force their workers to abide to some very strict timing requirements, and while this can work, it also leads to a high turnover rate and other problems in the long run.
Time studies are somewhat controversial, but they are a great tool for ensuring the smooth operation of an organization as it grows larger and more complex. When applied right, they don’t have to become a problematic aspect for the company, and if you introduce them appropriately you shouldn’t see any issues with your workers. And of course, ensuring that you always take everyone’s input into consideration when doing those studies can go a long way to keeping everyone in a good mood about the follow-up actions.