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Stage 2. Removing Barriers to Productivity: Time as a Management Tool

This is the second in a series of blogs posts describing an ongoing process of problem solving. This edition speaks to using time as a management tool…to plan, schedule and, little utilized, identify problems.

Work Measurement (Maintenance Estimating)

Work measurement, the science of relating work to time, is a broad field. There are numerous techniques for measuring including time studies, predetermined motion time systems (PMTS), and several types of estimating methods. The best method to use is typically determined by the nature of the work (e.g., repetitive versus complex) and how the data is going to be used. The second consideration is what we follow.

Researching the purposes for measuring work reveals a myriad of applications. The list below summarizes what we found:

For industrial engineers and lean and continuous improvement practitioners:

  • ­ Comparing work methods and developing best practices

  • ­ Determining standard time for various operations and implementing Takt time

  • ­ Balancing production lines

  • Establishing wage incentive schemes

·For operations managers

  • ­ Determining production capacity

  • ­ Planning workforce requirements

  • ­ Operations scheduling

  • ­ Evaluating labor performance

·For construction and services managers

  • ­ Determining price or cost of a product or output involving human labor

However, there is one application not widely discussed. That is a structured and ongoing surveillance of the production process for operating problems that cause delays or rework in the flow. We could not find this application covered at all in recent internet searches. However, it is possible that we just did not use the right search words.

This is not a program conducted and led by continuous improvement specialists or manufacturing/industrial engineers. It is similar to reliability engineers’ use of failure codes. Other than that, this is a purely operations-driven (production and maintenance) exercise.

This program is an ongoing problem identification and solving process that is complimentary to the review of key performance indicators (KPIs). Specifically, it is a process underlying the KPI that compares expected time to actual time, most commonly called “performance” or “performance to estimate.” There are two phases to discuss: first, how to set it up, and second, the process and roles for continuous improvement. We will go over the first phase in this paper.


The program starts with how you measure the work. Regardless of which work measurement method you use, you want to end up with a time allowance that describes the following:

  • Trained employees/crew

  • Working at a reasonable rate in safe conditions

  • Producing acceptable quality

  • Under good operating conditions

“Trained employees” means neither your fastest worker nor your slowest worker are sampled. Select employees who have completed any required training and initial evaluation period. Incidentally, this method also simplifies some of the planning complexities created by adjusting plans based on individual worker capabilities.

“At a reasonable rate” recognizes that trained employees will work at a pace they can sustain all day if need be. We have found that multiple, direct observations eliminate the need for pacing allowances in the study. Plus, it makes the measure more understandable (and credible) to line management and employees. This credibility and buy-in is crucial to the success of the entire program.

“In safe conditions” is a no-brainer requirement. No data is used in any study reflecting conditions in which PPE was not used, proper equipment was not used, or dangerous short cuts were employed. “Dangerous” includes all aspects of health, safety, and environment.

“Producing acceptable quality” means that the work process results in useable outputs. It meets quality requirements. The employees are not rushing to achieve a production count.

“Good operating conditions” means that all materials, equipment, and employees are available to do work. The work can progress as it was designed or planned. No contingency allowance is built back into the time required.

An Example:

This means that historical data is typically not useable. Historical data will include the operating problems we are trying to highlight. An example comes from the electric utility industry.

Construction Units (CU) were used to estimate how much time equipment installation would require. These construction units were developed using an average of time required by the last six installations of that type of equipment. That logic is good for establishing budgets and developing annual plans. It does not help us here. It is not the number with which the construction crews should be managed during execution.

We found that some of the equipment had been manufactured outside contractual specifications. Field crews, hurrying to meet schedule dates, would modify the equipment in the field but, in the same rush, not inform engineering or procurement of the variance.

That field modification time was built into the CU and institutionalized in the field as SOP! The work measurement process proposed here uncovered that situation. We reduced construction costs by holding the manufacturer to the contractual specifications.

The next steps in the setup are developing the time requirements (“standards,” or “reasonable expectations”) and the problem codes. After that, we define process and roles during work execution and implementation. We will cover each of these steps in subsequent blogs.


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