Toddy Tappers’ insights for the Knowledge Worker

If you have heard of Time and Motion studies, chances are that you heard about it in the context of the work of Frederick Taylor and Frank & Lillian Gilbreth – some 70+ years ago – when learning “Scientific Management” in the historical evolution of the discipline of Human Resource Management. If you haven’t heard of it, suffice to say that it’s a method of determining the “one best way” of performing a job: by breaking it down into component tasks, and analyzing the time and motions involved in the components.

The familiar example of toddy tappers make it obvious that the principles behind the Time and Motion study predate Taylor – climbing up and down coconut trees is the most time consuming single operation. The time saving in crossing from tree to tree justify the investment in setting up, and maintaining, the rope network.

But surely, Time and Motion studies are as dead as the dodo in the complex jobs present in today’s knowledge-based economy? In their original form, perhaps: The output of the factory worker who was the focus of Scientific Management could ultimately be measured, and even remunerated, in tangible objective terms (e.g. units assembled per day). That is not the case with most Knowledge workers because their output is less tangible – but still for all, if we can identify the repetitive tasks that take up large swathes of time, we can refine our systems and workflows so that the modern worker (who is still, notwithstanding various incentive and performance-based-pay schemes - typically paid for his/her time) can spend their time doing more value adding work.