Industrial Engineer Engineering and Management Solutions at Work

December 2016    |    Volume: 48    |    Number: 12

The member magazine of the Institute of Industrial and Engineers

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Editor's Desk

By Michael Hughes

A true rap for work measurement

In recent years, work measurement has gotten a bad rap in some IE circles.

Historically, opponents of scientific management were the ones deriding time-and-motion studies for dehumanizing people, forcing faster work and lowering quality, and relying too heavily on summary data and gross aggregates without regard for outliers.

Much of this criticism seemed unfair. Even cursory readings about Frederick Taylor and Frank and Lillian Gilbreth reveal that standardizing work methods, done properly, can help organizations hit the jackpot of better productivity, better products and a safer environment for employees. Such detailed analyses were the foundation for the revolution known as industrial engineering.

So it was surprising when I learned that by the tail end of the 20th century, work measurement was going out of style among fashionable IE researchers. Lean was new and sexy, and many academics surmised that all the research on work measurement was completed years ago. Some universities de-emphasized work measurement classes or dropped them altogether.

Consequently, many organizations moaned about the lack of work measurement skills, and private groups, including IIE, were called upon to teach this essential part of industrial engineering. So industries that want streamlined production processes still embrace work measurement.

As Raed El-Khalil writes in this month’s cover story, “Auto Zone,” starting on Page 30, “Standardized work is the first tool in the continuous improvement process.” He documents a case study at a North American automotive facility that established a new standard for operations in the roof and harness zone of vehicle production.

He shows that analyzing work methods with an eye to removing non-value-added time can yield extraordinary improvements. El-Khalil and many IEs in industry use work measurement as the basis for lean improvements. In this case, the new standards would reduce the number of technicians by one-fourth, while improving efficiency by 11 percent and utilization by 85 percent.

So jump on work measurement. It might be an old bandwagon, but it still rolls toward a viable and better future.

Michael Hughes is managing editor of IIE. Reach him at or (770) 349-1110.