Thursday, May 9, 2013

Time and Motion Study in Modern Era: From Stopwatch to “Humatronics”

In the 1960s and 1970s, time and motion study was a rage. It was pioneered in the West by Frederick Taylor in the late 1800s and early 1900s. The International Labor Organization (ILO) which caters to the welfare and wellbeing of labor has published its landmark manual on time and motion study. The objective of time and motion study on which the early foundations of industrial engineering were built was initially seen to be productivity of labor. Over time, it was expanded to include productivity of machines and that of man-machine systems. The change of nomenclature of time and motion study to work study and addition of workmen friendly tools like ergonomics and system efficiency techniques like statistical work sampling could do little to enhance the image of the time and motion study. Yet, time and motion study was relied upon more to determine piece rates and based on that wage and incentive rates in union-management negotiations.

Periods of protracted negotiations caused by the piece rate disputes used to add to industrial strife. The industrial engineer who entered the shop floor with his stop watch became as unpopular as the discipline he represented. However, with a change in the approach of unions and managements in favor of enterprise level goals rather than piece rate goals in the post-liberalization phase, the need to time every activity and person became less relevant. With the advent of Japanese production management systems which took shop floor productivity and man-machine optimization to new levels through integrated design of factory systems, classic time and motion study has virtually gone into oblivion. The question that arises is whether the concepts of work study and personal productivity are any less relevant today. As an analysis below would show, productivity from an individual to enterprise level continues to be a matter of critical importance.
Digital productivity
Today’s shop floor environment is characterized by digitally controlled equipment which perfectly record quality and productivity of output. The logistics environment is characterized by a number of coding and tracking devices, including global positioning services to record the speed and timeliness of movement and delivery. The office environment is characterized by a host of productivity devices, from desk top computers to smart phones to enable executives and managers to multitask. At a gross level, the electronic brain and eye are taking over several of the production, logistics and managerial functions from the human being. One would, therefore, believe that the newer digital ecosystem provides the right replacement technology for personal productivity, relieving the stop watch and work study from such vintage responsibilities.
Digitization, however, represents part-solution and part-problem. The solution, clearly, is one of accurate recording, retrievable archiving and analytical potential. The problem, less clearly, is one of digitization being a programmed and rigid protocol as opposed to human review and intervention which can be contextual and expansive to cater to unforeseen eventualities. The problem is also one of system designers prescribing excessive data collection and analysis which could eventually confuse analysis. Even more dangerously, any error in automation could lead to highly damaging results. The occasional cataclysmal results that occur due to the deployment of computerized algorithmic trading on the bourses are proof of such risks. At a personal level, the multiplicity of devices and options as well as of 24X7 working while seemingly aiding productivity could be actually enhancing stress and reducing productivity levels. 
Redefining productivity
In the digital era, productivity needs redefinition at personal, team and enterprise level redefinitions. The classic dilemma at individual level has been between professional (or work) life and personal (or family) life. In the digital era, the dilemma has been expanded to cover digital (or Internet) life. The fact that individuals are now increasingly programmed to work in a boundary-less and timeless manner with an ever larger universe of people indicates that the overall system productivity does need re-optimization. The fact that individuals are now increasingly networked independent of either personal or professional life indicates that both personal and professional productivity could be affected. The fact that the formal and informal teams are overtaken by virtual teams which do not share the same interactive characteristics of formal and informal teams is a cause for worry. At the enterprise level, lack of convergence between operational productivity and business competitiveness also needs to be tackled.
Samuel Johnson, the eminent English literary leader, said in the 18th century that books of the hour need to be distinguished from the books of a lifetime. For achieving personal productivity, work for the day needs to be distinguished from the work for the lifetime; and so must information of the minute be distinguished from information of the lifetime. Equally, Internet interactions need to be distinguished in terms of socialization as a pastime from socialization for real personal and/or social good. Individuals must keep track of three important parameters of personal productivity: (a) in the personal, familial and social areas, the value-adding and non-value adding activities performed by the individual each day, (b) the efficiency and effectiveness with which the individual decides and executes each day, and (c) the ability to start and end each day with the conviction and humility of learning and contributing each day.
While individuals need internal motivation, teams need shared motivation to be productive. Virtual teams have been a result of globalization and global delivery models. Productivity of such teams is supported by plurality of ideas and systematization of planning but is eroded by constraints of time and space and diffusion of execution responsibility and accountability. Productivity of virtual teams is a subject by itself as virtual teams are governed by metrics rather than processes, and by communication rather than feel. The ability to be productive and focused is usually impaired by the Exponential and Inverse Laws of Virtual Teams. The Exponential Law states that each addition to a virtual team doubles the information overload. The Inverse Law states that the larger the team and higher the information, the lower will be the discussion.  Each virtual team requires a productivity mentor to enable productive behavior and results from virtual teams.
Enterprise productivity defies easy definition. The concept of business competitiveness as measured by market share, market capitalization or earnings per share embeds in it operational productivity as a foundation. Business competitiveness requires operational productivity but operational productivity by itself cannot guarantee business competitiveness. Operational productivity coupled with strategic productivity can provide business competitiveness. Strategic productivity is poorly appreciated even in the best of organizations. The inevitable gross and futuristic nature of strategy allows huge latitude in deployment of resources and definition of expectations. Enterprise leaders need to develop and execute relevant company level paradigms to ensure productivity in strategic planning and execution.
Electronics and digitization dominate our modern day lives; individuals are overwhelmed by access to data and information and networks and matrices of multiple cross-sections. Teams are rendered invisible by virtual configurations of multi-geographic teams and boundary-less work streams, with constraints of time and space. Enterprises are unable to combine operational productivity and strategic productivity into an integrated paradigm. The way to cope with this is to develop a digital paradigm of work study which combines human ingenuity and flexibility with electronic speed and accuracy. This paradigm, christened Humatronics, will be contrarian in terms of a focused and purposeful use of electronics and digitization instead of an unbridled and unlimited use of these platforms.
From the view of personal productivity, humatronics would, firstly, involve limiting the followers and followed of the social and internet media to the bare minimum and to the most profound so that the ratio of value creation to time deployed has the most favorable number. Secondly, it would involve time-bound sequential working rather than toggle-switching multi-tasking. Thirdly, it would require a daily balance of activity accounting and achievement accounting, capturing the Top 5 time-drawers and Top 5 achievement-rankers. The clarity and value which would accrue through this process on an individual’s productivity would be phenomenal.
In terms of team productivity, Humatronics would, firstly, involve creation of teams that are able to develop the right balance of “read-talk-see” faculties so that the team members are able to simulate each other’s presence and thought processes and minimize the time required for physical interface. Secondly, the meetings should be based on effective tele-presence systems that bring a real life feel to remote meetings. Thirdly, it would require localization of primary responsibility within the global system so that the benefits of local execution and global delivery are combined. The productivity that would accrue through the use of digital processes for global team effectiveness would be substantial.
Enterprise productivity can be enhanced through humatronics in a number of ways. Commonly, digitization of all activities which enables accuracy and archiving is considered as the primary contributor to productivity. Real productivity would, however, accrue from conversion of hazardous and time consuming manual jobs to robotic operations. Welding and stamping have been primary areas for robotics. Automated high level stacking and retrieval, automated guided vehicle transportation, driverless automobiles, pilotless aircraft, robot-assisted surgeries, robotic ultra-clean room operations, automated continuous process systems, and such other areas are prime targets for humatronics at the enterprise level.
Holistic and integrated design of robot-assisted digital man-machine systems on one hand and optimization of digital-assisted human brain power on the other are the new enablers for productivity.
Posted by Dr CB Rao on May 9, 2013               

1 comment:

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