Operations Management

How to Collect and Interpret Time Study Data

Written by Andrew Goldman for Gaebler Ventures

Time study data is the collection and analysis of your various processes. By utilizing time study data you can have a much stronger knowledge of your operation and better plan for the future.

Time study data is the act of tracking your processes and operations with measured start and stop times.

Once this data has been compiled, it can be used for analysis, planning and improvement tracking.

It is an extremely valuable tool that is exceptionally underutilized by small businesses.

It requires little maintenance and legwork to compile and the benefits can be tremendous. Without time study data, it is difficult for a business to understand their processes and properly plan for future business. In addition, by having time study data in place, the impact of new equipment and procedures can be analyzed and understood financially without major investment.

Gathering Time Study Data

To begin, you want to identify the processes that you wish to track and interpret. For manufacturing companies, this should include most (if not all) of the steps involved in your production process.

If you are in the service industry, time study data should be conducted on repetitive tasks and anything that affects the promised delivery date/time to your customer. Once you have the mechanics of time study data complete, you can apply it to other areas of your company including office work (time to process invoices etc).

No matter where you're conducting time study data, it's important that the employees do not feel like they are being timed for speed. Your employees should understand the reason for the collection of data and work as they would normally work.

There's a natural tendency for employees to feel apprehensive if they know they are being timed. This can lead to irregularities in the data as employees may speed up or slow down in response to being timed. It is important that your employees work normally, and the data base will contain many individual data points, so over time you should see patterns and consistencies that will show you how long your processes take.

The more data your gather, the more accurate the results will be. Keeping this in mind, you want to create a system that is self-sustaining and doesn't require a lot of leg work. When a job order is issued, it should be accompanied by a standard data-collecting sheet.

Those working the process will fill out a few simple pieces of information (start time, end time, number of employees, date, notes). It's important to be aware of any differences between on run versus another. For example, if you complete a job with 5 employees one day and use 6 employees the next day, this should be noted in the data.

When the data sheets are returned they should be entered in a computer system. There is data analysis software available, but Microsoft Excel can work well for the small business with limited resources.

Whoever is entering the data into the computer needs to be careful. This is a human task so errors in data entry are possible. For this reason, the hard copies of the data should be kept on record. Once the data has been entered into the system, your computer program can make the calculations necessary for analysis. These calculations should include: average time per job, average production per person as well as maximum and minimum calculations.

Leveraging Time Study Data to Improve Small Business Operations

Once your database is growing, you will have pertinent information regarding your processes that can be used for planning and analysis. You may find that your productivity per person is greater when you have one less person working that operation. This could result in changes to the way you plan and operate.

When creating a work plan, the data collected during time studies is an incredible ally. You can use the data you've created as benchmarks and targets for your employees.

You can track productivity over time and expect to see improvements. If you make reconfigurations to your set up, you can accurately compare the efficiency data to the older methods.

By using time study data you will find you have a much stronger knowledge of everything involved with your operations.

Andrew Goldman is an Isenberg School of Management MBA student at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. He has extensive experience working with small businesses on a consulting basis.

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