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A time and motion study (or time-motion study) is a business efficiency technique combining the Time Study work of Frederick Winslow Taylor with the Motion Study work of Frank and Lillian Gilbreth (the same couple as is best known through the biographical 1950 film and book Cheaper by the Dozen). It is a major part of scientific management (Taylorism). After its first introduction, time study developed in the direction of establishing standard times, while motion study evolved into a technique for improving work methods. The two techniques became integrated and refined into a widely accepted method applicable to the improvement and upgrading of work systems. This integrated approach to work system improvement is known as methods engineering and it is applied today to industrial as well as service organizations, including banks, schools and hospitals.
Time study is a direct and continuous observation of a task, using a timekeeping device (e.g., decimal minute stopwatch, computer-assisted electronic stopwatch, and videotape camera) to record the time taken to accomplish a task and it is often used when:
The Industrial Engineering Terminology Standard defines time study as "a work measurement technique consisting of careful time measurement of the task with a time measuring instrument, adjusted for any observed variance from normal effort or pace and to allow adequate time for such items as foreign elements, unavoidable or machine delays, rest to overcome fatigue, and personal needs."
The systems of time and motion studies are frequently assumed to be interchangeable terms, descriptive of equivalent theories. However, the underlying principles and the rationale for the establishment of each respective method are dissimilar, despite originating within the same school of thought.
The application of science to business problems, and the use of time-study methods in standard setting and the planning of work, was pioneered by Frederick Winslow Taylor. Taylor liaised with factory managers and from the success of these discussions wrote several papers proposing the use of wage-contingent performance standards based on scientific time study. At its most basic level time studies involved breaking down each job into component parts, timing each part and rearranging the parts into the most efficient method of working. By counting and calculating, Taylor wanted to transform management, which was essentially an oral tradition, into a set of calculated and written techniques.
Taylor and his colleagues placed emphasis on the content of a fair day’s work, and sought to maximize productivity irrespective of the physiological cost to the worker. For example, Taylor thought unproductive time usage (soldiering) to be the deliberate attempt of workers to promote their best interests and to keep employers ignorant of how fast work could be carried out. This instrumental view of human behavior by Taylor prepared the path for human relations to supersede scientific management in terms of literary success and managerial application.
In response to Taylor’s time studies and view of human nature, many strong criticisms and reactions were recorded. Unions, for example, regarded time study as a disguised tool of management designed to standardize and intensify the pace of production. Similarly, individuals such as Gilbreth (1909), Cadbury and Marshall heavily criticized Taylor and pervaded his work with subjectivity. For example, Cadbury in reply to Thompson stated that under scientific management employee skills and initiatives are passed from the individual to management, a view reiterated by Nyland. In addition, Taylor’s critics condemned the lack of scientific substance in his time studies, in the sense that they relied heavily on individual interpretations of what workers actually do. However, the value in rationalizing production is indisputable and supported by academics such as Gantt, Ford and Munsterberg, and Taylor society members Mr C.G. Renold, Mr W.H. Jackson and Mr C.B. Thompson. Proper time studies must be made multiple times so see different motions that singular or multiple workers may perfrom on the same part to determine those values that are truly repetitive and measureable. Good studies are never just studied just once.
In contrast to, and motivated by, Taylor’s time study methods, the Gilbreths proposed a technical language, allowing for the analysis of the labor process in a scientific context. The Gilbreths made use of scientific insights to develop a study method based upon the analysis of work motions, consisting in part of filming the details of a worker’s activities while recording the time. The films served two main purposes. One was the visual record of how work had been done, emphasising areas for improvement. Secondly, the films also served the purpose of training workers about the best way to perform their work. This method allowed the Gilbreths to build on the best elements of these work flows and to create a standardized best practice.
Although for Taylor, motion studies remained subordinate to time studies, the attention he paid to the motion study technique demonstrated the seriousness with which he considered the Gilbreths’ method. The split with Taylor in 1914, on the basis of attitudes to workers, meant the Gilbreths had to argue contrary to the trade unionists, government commissions and Robert Hoxie who believed scientific management was unstoppable. The Gilbreths were charged with the task of proving that motion study particularly, and scientific management generally, increased industrial output in ways which improved and did not detract from workers' mental and physical strength. This was no simple task given the propaganda fuelling the Hoxie report and the consequent union opposition to scientific management. In addition, the Gilbreths credibility and academic success continued to be hampered by Taylor who held the view that motion studies were nothing more than a continuation of his work.
While both Taylor and the Gilbreths continue to be criticized for their respective work, it should be remembered that they were writing at a time of industrial reorganization and the emergence of large, complex organizations with new forms of technology. Furthermore, to equate scientific management merely with time and motion study and consequently labor control not only misconceives the scope of scientific management, but also misinterprets Taylor’s incentives for proposing a different style of managerial thought.
Following is the procedure developed by Mikell Groover for a direct time study:
According to good practice guidelines for production studies  a comprehensive time study consists of:
The collection of time data can be done in several ways, depending on study goal and environmental conditions. Time and motion data can be captured with a common stopwatch, a handheld computer or a video recorder. There are a number of dedicated software packages used to turn a palmtop or a handheld PC into a time study device. As an alternative, time and motion data can be collected automatically from the memory of computer-control machines (i.e. automated time studies).
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