What is a Time Study?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

A time study is an analysis of the production process that is designed to improve efficiency by identifying areas of production where time is wasted. It can be conducted by a firm that specializes in such studies or it may be directed by personnel within a company. Time studies can reduce waste and streamline the production process to make it go by more quickly. Companies of all types and sizes can utilize efficiency studies to improve their performance.

Time studies aim to improve the efficiency of production or other operations.
Time studies aim to improve the efficiency of production or other operations.

The first step in a time study involves breaking down the process into a series of discrete units that can be studied independently. The administrator of the study analyzes the entire process to pick out the steps, and then looks at each step individually. This includes examining how steps are performed, identifying unnecessary motions and activities that happen during each step, and timing the optimal completion of each step.

A time study may be used to help factory employees be more productive.
A time study may be used to help factory employees be more productive.

Another term for a time study is a time and motion study, in reference to the fact that the motions made at each step are studied as well. Once the entire process has been thoroughly studied, a report can be prepared to detail where areas of inefficiency lie and to provide suggestions for improvement. Improvements can include retraining employees, moving parts of the process around, replacing equipment, and taking other steps to cut down on the time spent at each stage of the process. The time study can also include a metric for evaluating performance afterward to determine whether or not the business is meeting its goals.

The concept of the time study dates to the turn of the 20th century, when workplaces were becoming increasingly repetitive and mechanized. Studies were used to identify areas of the manufacturing process that needed improvement and to make gains in employee efficiency. A number of early pioneers in the manufacturing world were involved in streamlining production processes and developing methods for assessing assembly lines and working environments.

In addition to being used in the business community, time studies can also be applied in other areas. Students sometimes find that breaking studying into discrete tasks and studying the process can help them study more effectively. Likewise, athletes may use a variation of the time study to analyze their workout routines and look for areas where they could benefit from improvement. The same techniques that work in offices and on assembly lines can be applied to other activities in life.

Each worker along an assembly line has specific tasks he must complete in a limited amount of time.
Each worker along an assembly line has specific tasks he must complete in a limited amount of time.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


@simrin, @anamur- I agree with @anamur. I think we should also keep in mind that a lot of these measurements are subjective. There is always an engineer that is heading a time study and he or she determines the standards of work and timing. The time study also helps a company measure the performance of employees and whether they are keeping up.

There is something called the "performance rating," for example. The engineer watches employees work, times them and comes up with the standard time that it takes for an employee to finish a job. How each employee does in comparison to that standard, is their performance rating.

So, that standard is not a random time that the company comes up with. It's still based on the employees who work there. That's why I think that a time study is a fair method to measure timing, efficiency and performance.


@simrin-- I don't know about the quality aspect of it. But a time study doesn't just aim to make things faster. The goal is not to lose out on quality or to put anyone at risk. The goal is to put out the same quality product more efficiently. And if the company sees fit to get rid of a step or two or make some steps simpler, it is actually making the employee's job easier.


Does a time study ever take into account opinions of employees?

Do you remember the episode in I Love Lucy where she was working at a chocolate factory and the line was moving so fast that she had to eat the chocolates to get rid of them? Or if any of you have watched Food Inc., a similar situation was shown where employees in the meat factory couldn't keep up with the line which undermined the quality and safety of the meat product.

I guess what I'm trying to get at is whether a study that only considers time and efficiency enough? Of course, timing how a process in a factory works is a good way to improve efficiency and increase profits. But saving that time might reduce the quality of the product or put employees' or even consumer's health at risk.

How is this all balanced out? Are employees asked to give opinions? How do time study methods determine potential consequences of these changes?

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