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Time & Motion Studies

The idea of a Time and Motion Study is often still associated with production lines and manufacturing industry. It gained a bad reputation as a source of disagreement between "management" and "workers". However if used properly it can be of mutual benefit to modern companies and their workforce.

The study of management and productivity is a massive field, what follows is of necessity a brief overview.


Scientific Management

Time & Motion studies have their roots in the work of Frederick Winslow Taylor who in 1911 published his famous article The Principles of Scientific Management. Essentially this involved getting the best person for each job and training them to do it the best way possible. Although Taylor believed in cooperation between management and workers, "Taylorism" can be seen as formalising the management/worker divide. Management would be responsible for deciding how things were done with workers simply doing what they were told. It was seen as dehumanising, reducing skilled workers to the status of mechanical parts and resources.


Time and Motion study was refined in the early twentieth century by Frank and Lillian Gilbreth. The Gilbreths' preferred "motion study" to Taylor's "time study", however the term Time and Motion has tended to stick in popular terminology.

The Gilbreths studied the actions taken by workers at certain task with the aim of streamlining the processes involved. One of their most famous experiments involved analysing the work of bricklayers and significantly reducing the number of "operations" involved. This change benefited both employer (increased productivity) and employee (decreased fatigue).


The Gilbreths developed a categorisation system for the different basic activities which went to make up a task. These were called Therbligs (an anagram of "Gilbreths"). The basic Therbligs numbered around 15 (the system developed over time) and included such actions as "find", "select" and "rest". Each of these was represented by an icon, for example an eye for "find". The activity of a worker could then be plotted on a Simo Chart ("Simultaneous Motion Chart") for optimisation.

Hawthorne Effect

One problem for Time and Motion studies is what is known as the Hawthorne Effect (named after a factory not a person). This in essence says that employees change their behaviour when they know that they are being measured - the mere act of performing a study can improve performance. It's a form of "observer effect" akin to a productivity placebo.

The Hawthorne Effect also showed that productivity tends to improve whatever changes are made, then return to normal over time. This recognises that workers are human beings and that knowing they are valued can in itself inspire better performance.

The Hawthorne Effect doesn't undermine the value of Time and Motion studies but does emphasise that people are the most significant element of any workplace.


The original Time and Motion Study concepts led during the twentieth century to the development of Predetermined Motion Time Systems (PMTS) such as Methods-Time-Measurement (MTM). This was released in 1948 by Maynard, Stegemerten, & Schwab and is today found in three versions: MTM-1, MTM-2 and MTM-3