Those who’ve been working with lean methodologies for awhile can probably identify some common patterns in the way problems are approached, and the ability to correctly identify bottlenecks and allocate the time of the organization more efficiently is a critical skill that any good leader should constantly be seeking to improve.
Time studies and work sampling are two closely related techniques designed to give you a more adequate overview of how your company’s resources are being allocated, e.g. how much time employees spend on different parts of their jobs and how long they have to wait to receive their input from another part of the company.
A time study, as the name implies, goes through the timing constraints involved in each step of your organization’s processes, and shows you exactly how much time is spent on each individual step, as well as where the biggest idle periods are.
While conducting a time study can be a bit stressful to some people within an organization, including leaders themselves, it can provide you with some invaluable results that can help you significantly shorten the time necessary to complete different parts of the overall process. The problem is that some managers tend to use this information to an extreme level, using it to push their employees to work harder and harder until they’re literally at the edge of their limits.
On the other hand, when done right, a time study can reveal a lot of useful information about the organization, and can help all departments cooperate with each other on a much deeper and involved level. It takes some experience to do this correctly though, and if you’re not confident in your ability to run a time study on your organization, you should definitely look into contracting an outside party for the job.
Work sampling is a technique related to time studies, and it’s the specific tool that gives you information about the timing involved in each individual process in the organization. When you sample the working process of the company, you will know how much time, on average, a worker needs to do things like set up their working environment, finish their current job, clean up and prepare the workstation for the person that comes afterwards, and so on.
The important detail about work sampling is that it requires a lot of samples in order to do it right, especially in processes that tend to be a bit more volatile in their timing. You have to make sure that you’re collecting a good number of data points to draw your conclusions from, otherwise you would end up wasting a lot of time in your sampling as you will end up with results that don’t provide you with any useful information.
Another important point is that you should adjust your sampling for a larger workforce when appropriate, as it’s a very different ordeal to sample one individual worker’s performance as opposed to a large team of many people. The differences in results can lead to the need for different problem-solving approaches, and if you plan on conducting time studies in the long run, you’ll want to make sure that your work sampling is always adapted to the current state of affairs in the organization.
Some randomness can also help when the sampling is more complicated. You don’t necessarily have to follow every single step of the process closely, and you can sometimes get away with randomly checking the current status of things in different departments as you see appropriate. Or you can adjust the randomness factor according to the results of the latest study, e.g. focusing more on departments that proved problematic in the past.
Time studies and work sampling can be extremely powerful tools when used right, and they can help you build a solid foundation for your lean organization. As long as you make sure to apply those techniques correctly and consult with your employees about the potential impact on their work, you should end up with some very good, positive results from your studies in the long run.