Stopwatch Lean

Time studies elicit many emotions. Among others, I usually encounter anger, fear and anxiety.

Why is this?

Time and motion study were founded in scientific management and are still generally associated with that movement. When people were paid for piece rates, time studies were essential for establishing fair wages for the good of both employees and employer. It seems this relationship devolved into a bitter one over time. I wonder if one reason for this is that the natural conclusion of "command-and-control" management theory meant that the industrial engineer on the floor seen with a stopwatch only meant that the worker was going to have to speed up, which meant less pay for the workers and more profit for the employer.

This relationship has taken new meaning in 2008 where some skilled workers can make more money than the newbie engineer holding the stopwatch.

Does this conflict still exist? The core of lean application is in reducing lead-time so it is only natural that we have a stopwatch ready in our holster. The reason for this is so that we can understand our standard work and be able to balance lines, meet requirements, etc. In fact, I most workcells I have helped create required workers to slow down in order to meet takt time. Yet, the anxiety is still there when workers see a stopwatch or worse, a video camera.

On one hand, I wouldn't want anybody timing me, but would willingly go along to gain an understanding of the situation. Most people aren't like that. How can we get people to understand that timing is more about understanding the requirements of the job and less about making people work faster?

I'm afraid that there is no standard answer that could be put into practice by industry, so I don't expect one. The simple reason is that management theory has a long way to go before we let go of the command-and-control level of thinking. However, perhaps you experienced Leansters out there could offer up suggestions for others to build on? How do you get people to embrace the time-study nature of lean?

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