Stopwatch picUnderstanding the current reality within the context of time and space is extremely critical. The time observation form is a powerful tool to facilitate direct observation. The form is instrumental in the identification and understanding of waste elimination and variation reduction opportunities.  It’s a staple of kaizen and feedstock for standard work combination sheets and process capacity tables.

If the time observation form is so important, then everyone knows how and when to use it, right? WRONG. Unfortunately, there are a bunch of common mistakes that practitioners regularly make. In no particular order, here’s an incomplete list of time observation mistakes:

  1. One form for multiple operators. It doesn’t get much more confusing than this. The individual operator’s work sequence and work content can’t be discerned.
  2. Component tasks not broken down into the smallest observable elements. Summary tasks like, “assemble part” or “room patient” does not give the observer usable insight.
  3. Incorrect or missing cumulative times. The lap button is on the stopwatch for a reason. And don’t pretend that you’re accurate enough to use decimal points.
  4. Insufficient number of cycles observed. Unless we’re talking about multi-hour cycles, the observer(s) should observe and document as many as 7 to 10 cycles. How else can you identify variation and understand most repeatable times?
  5. “Interviewing” operators during the observation. Not a good way to conduct accurate, real-life observations…unless their work normally includes responding to interview questions.
  6. Improperly determining component task times. No averages and throw out abnormal values (but try to understand them and the reasons for them). Make their sum equal to the lowest cycle time observed. Above all, use common sense.
  7. Not communicating the what, how and why to the operators and other stakeholders BEFORE the observations are conducted. This is respect for the worker and helps ensure that the observed cycles are reflective of reality (no rushing by someone out to impress the observer, no slow down to taint the observations, etc.).
  8. Not following the operator. If they leave the immediate area, go and follow them. How else will you directly observe?
  9. Not using the “Points Observed” column. This is the place on the form where you can record the reasons for abnormal times, variation and capture improvement ideas. These are pearls.
  10. Not completing the form header. Without this information, later on it may prove difficult to determine who made the observations, what process was being observed and when the observations were made.

So, do you have any additions or corrections to this list of common mistakes?

Related post: The Truth Will Set You Free!