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Productive Work

How to Quickly Gauge Worker Productivity

As a Lean consultant, I do a lot of reading about Lean and keep my ear to the ground to try to find new tips and tricks to deliver more value to my clients and the readers of the content on my website.

Because I’ve been doing this a while, the pace of the forehead-smackers has slowed down considerably. Those are the ones where you see an obvious trick that you figure you should have come up with on your own.

I got one of those recently from Freddy and Michael Ballés’ book The Gold Mine. (Incidentally, I am reading a copy I received to review right now. It’s a good read that’s hard to put down. Sort of an updated version of The Goal with more of the Lean tools discussed in detail. It also addresses a lot of the human side of Lean, which you’ll know strikes a chord with me if you’ve read my book, Whaddaya Mean I Gotta Be Lean?)

To know the amount of truly productive work in an area-the value added stuff, you can do all of your time studies and then dive into the detailed data analysis to categorize the work.

Or you can do what the character in the book (it reads like a novel) suggests. Walk through an area and take a count of the number of workers who are doing productive work vs. those who are not. If you understand statistics, you’ll immediately recognize that this is not a perfect method, but it is a good way to gauge the percentage of productive work in an area.

For example, walk against the flow of an assembly line and count which of the workers are doing a value added step the moment you see them, and which are doing things like paperwork, moving parts, talking to supervisors, cleaning paint from threads, or any of the other reams of non-productive work that goes on.

If 5 of the 22 workers are doing value added work, the percentage of productive work in the process is probably pretty close to 23%. The other 17 are probably working, just not on something that a customer would want to see on an invoice.

Now, 22 is not a big enough number to be certain of statistical significance, but it is a good first pass read on how much of the work is productive, and a good way to get a read on an area you are seeing for the first time.

Let me know if you’ve used this technique before, and how that’s worked out for you.


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