Incorporating New Work Measurement Teaching Tools

Author: Nancy L. Black: University Professor, University de Moncton, Moncton, New Brunswick

Abstract

Despite budget restraints, modern, practical tools must be incorporated in Work Study courses for them to be relevant. While traditional stopwatch time studies must be included, new technologies allow automatic classification and analysis of data in a portable platform. Since 1996, " Track-IT® " time tracking software and handheld recording units have been incorporated into the teaching of the required Industrial Engineering Work Study course to incorporate self-study into the curriculum. With a homework format, students use the system to analyze their time usage, submitting their results using reports defined in Track-IT. This assignment allows students to apply work study to their daily activities, while demonstrating how the tools of work study continue to evolve. Student feedback received over three years was analyzed to ensure the application has pedagogical relevance and to help the company that builds the unit (Dovico) improve their tools and time management software.

1. Introduction

Work Study requires analysis of time and method, these two elements often being taught separately. For both sections, teaching tools range from the purely manual to machine or computer-based. Simple, continuous observation time studies may be conducted manually, using stopwatch readings, performance ratings and additional allowance factors. Some time study tools include limited automation using memory and element coding. Expected time requirements for accomplishing activities using a given method may be defined using predetermined motion time systems like MOST, with tables or computer programs. Just as well-designed computer programs facilitate the application of MOST, direct time measurement studies can take advantage of current technologies. Track-IT® time tracking tools produced by Dovico allow computer-aided study for managing individuals’ time usage. This new project time management software product developed in New Brunswick complements other time tracking tools available.

The most basic method of time study, and the one most frequently used in Work Study courses, is a manual system of task observation, with time recording using a stopwatch and forms for data recording. This method is highly portable and low cost but requires a high degree of manual effort and ongoing concentration on the part of the analyst to maintain high accuracy. While a manual system ensures understanding of the basic principles, it must be applied by groups of 2 or more in laboratory studies since the analyst in a stopwatch study cannot also be the operator. This precludes direct self-study.

Tools which allow self-study enhance awareness of the utility of time study in a variety of contexts, as well as sensitivity to one’s own productivity. Since Track-IT® tools are specifically designed to facilitate self-study for project time management, these tools were incorporated into the teaching curriculum of Industrial Engineering at University de Moncton to allow self-study in a modern context. While other computerized work measurement tools exist on the market, none fulfills this role let alone doing so at reasonable cost.

Study Objectives

Including Track-IT in the Work Study curriculum had two objectives. Firstly, Track-IT allows the student to apply work study in an organized fashion to even their daily activities, thereby learning outside the classroom in a relevant context. Secondly, by using both manual systems and computer integrated recording systems, students learn tangibly how new technologies allow the science of work study to evolve.

 

2. Methods

The Technology

Track-IT tools make efficient use of available technologies by including easy to understand interfaces and portable recording devices. While project and activity titles are defined in the Windows-based Track-IT pro program. In addition, recent versions include both a handheld electronic time recording tool (ETRT) and a computer-mounted interface, Track-IT light, to capture project and activity duration's in minutes. Once captured Track-IT produces a variety of reports and graphs for analysis. This process eliminates manual transcription while facilitating meaningful data recording. Finally, the possibility of using the ETRT (Hand Held Device, a Palm PDA or Pocket PC PDA would facilitate this item) or the computer-based Track-IT light, means Track-IT can be adapted to the students’ variable work environment.

The ETRT is easy to operate, interfacing directly to a computer for data interpretation and analysis while fitting in the palm of one’s hand. Our current handheld ETRT measures 8.6 cm x 7.5 cm x 2.2 cm, weighs just 111 grams and has a memory capacity of 128 Kb. It has 8 domed, pressure-sensitive keys which access predefined project and activity titles via a menu structure. Upon pressing any key, a line of text appears in the unit’s window cueing the user to the current state of the system. Pressing the " interrupt " key (telephone graphic) immediately changes the current state of the unit, allowing interruptions to be easily recorded and later classified by project. While only the handheld unit is needed to record activities, in order to analyze and report activities, the unit is "parked" on a computer-connected platform to download data at a 9600 baud rate from the unit’s memory using infrared communication. The computer software interface is menu-driven, guiding the user easily through options originally in either in a pull-down DOS menu or a Windows format. Changes to the project or activity options available on the handheld unit are defined using this same project time tracking software .

The handheld ETRT is ideal for teaching time study since it is easy to learn and allows input error correction. Menus are accessed by pressing the forward or backward arrow keys guiding the user through available options. If an activity is accidentally started early or late, its start time can be adjusted on the unit itself. In addition, once the data is collected and downloaded, it may again be changed. The unit’s usability and error correction capabilities allow its use for even a short period to study one’s productivity. Track-IT is thus well-designed for the brief, biweekly laboratory format of the work study course as well as industrial self-study applications.

The computer-mounted version of the ETRT is Track-IT light. This program is activated using standard point and click commands, with options being predefined either in Track-IT light itself, or in Track-IT itself. Once activated, Track-IT light opens a small window with menus of project and activity options. Once the appropriate title for both of these has been selected, the icon shrinks and moves to one corner of the screen to allow free operation of the computer system. Graphical representations of a " little person " indicate the status of the system in an amusing and clear fashion; when he is standing, the system is " idle " and when he is running the system is " active " recording time for an activity.

Presenting the tool to students

Since this tool is applied to study one’s own time management, it is assigned as an out-of-classroom homework assignment. However one hour-long lecture session is used to introduce the concepts of the system and briefly review the computer interface and documentation. This presentation format is significantly different from that used by clients in industry. For industry, Dovico suggests a six step methodology over a four-week period (see Figure 2) to collect and review data similar applications.

Week 1

Weeks 2 & 3

Week 4

Step 1

Initial meeting to define projects & activities

Step 2

Training on ETRT

Steps 3 & 4

One-day trial & follow-up training

Step 5

Self-study period

Step 6

Data analysis & report preparation

Monday

Wednesday

Friday

Monday to Friday

Wednesday

Figure 2. Methodology for Track-IT Time Study application in industry

For the last 2 years, students in the Work Study class have used the system to study their work habits with a slightly altered methodology (see Figure 3). At the beginning of the term, the professor defines general projects and activities reflecting a student’s normal workload, although individual users can add to or modify these lists. Typical projects would include the student’s course numbers, and associated activities would include classes, homework, labs and "other". Following the introductory lecture early in the term, students sign-up in groups of 2 or 3 to use the system for a 2 week period. At the start of the first week, the students learn how to use the ETRT with the assistance of a laboratory technician and the unit’s manual. Then, one student uses the handheld unit or Track-IT light for a one-day trial run to ensure comprehension and proper use of the ETRT. By Wednesday, the student begins to keep track of his or her time using the ETRT for a minimum four-day study period. The additional time may be used to explore other technologies, allow other students to use the ETRT, and prepare a written report using Track-IT pro including an analysis of the information collected during the study.

Week 1

Week 2

Step 1

Define projects & activities and training on ETRT

Step 2

One-day trial

Steps 3 & 4

Self-study period

Step 5

Data analysis & report preparation

Monday

Tuesday

Wednesday to Monday

Tuesday to Friday

Figure 3. Methodology for Track-IT laboratory application

Applying the tool

Many students have been introduced to Track-IT tools in the work study course over many terms since 1996. The first group only observed the tools and their associated reports during a lecture on newly developed time study tools which took place near the end of the term. Following the keen interest shown by that group, the next term Track-IT was applied to study students’ own time usage as a homework assignment. Following an introductory lecture during the second week of classes, students signed up in pairs to borrow the ETRT for a 2-week period to analyze their time management. At least one partner was required to record their activities. The report submitted included a summary of their activities for the period making use of the relevant Track-IT reports, qualitative and quantitative interpretation of these data, an analysis of the advantages and disadvantages of the system, and their suggestions for other applications where such a system could be useful. During the third term, Track-IT was similarly introduced at the start of the term during the presentation of various time-study tools. This time however, students worked in groups of 2 or 3 and each student was asked to record their time usage by at least 1 or 3 methods : ETRT with Track-IT pro, Track-IT light, or manual (pen and paper) time recording. Each group had access to the ETRT for a 2-week period, Track-IT light was available for installation on multiple computers, ant Track-IT pro was available for use in the class laboratory during office hours. In addition to reporting their activities and interpreting their time usage with the assistance of Track-IT, this time students were asked to compare the 3 methods of self-study recording, including the capacities and limitations of each, as well as their suggestions for improvements to the system. In this manner, students were able to profit from Track-IT while being active players in its development.

In addition to the work study application, students of the Faculty of Administration’s Management Information Systems course at University de Moncton, were shown how Track-IT tools can also be used to measure the value of increased productivity associated with restructuring individual or departmental job functions because of technology. In cost-benefit analysis terms, the value is measured by the cost to purchase or to implement a new technology versus the benefit it produces. However, " value restructuring " addresses the values associated with restructuring job or department function, measuring the value of productivity increases resulting from organizational change, thus supplementing the cost displacement and cost avoidance techniques of traditional cost-benefit analysis (Marilyn Parker and Robert Benson 1988). By increasing time spent in higher-value activities, the time spent in less productive functions will decrease. Time multiplied by salary for each function is then used to quantify the productivity gain. This gain is in addition to the benefits quantified through traditional cost-benefit analysis, thus enabling decision-makers to better justify the implementation. Because traditional manual time recording methods such as manual time logs are labor-intensive, the measure of increased productivity was often not considered in traditional cost-benefit analysis. During the course, students were shown how Track-IT light can be used to easily measure productivity gains to be included in the computation of traditional cost-benefit analysis.

Indeed, outside the classroom, Track-IT has been used where performance of critical job-related tasks had to be studied to achieve optimum productivity and improve performance. Two such instances involved New Brunswick corporations. The first study (Dovico 95a) identified and quantified time spent signing on and off various computer systems, as well as identifying and quantifying the time spent redoing tasks because of data lost using outdated computers. The study was performed during ten regular working days for five participants in different locations. Of the total 10.37 hours recorded for these tasks, the proportion was higher in locations which had fewer staff and more interruptions. The second study (Dovico 95b) was performed by a manager who wished to improve his working skills and performance. More specifically, he wanted to know if he was spending enough time with clients. By listing the time spent working on different tasks and their related activities in percent, Track-IT helped him determine if he was spending his time on the right priorities and it helped him evaluate his workload to see how he could increase his performance and improve his productivity.

Each of these applications incorporates work study’s fundamental principle of using time measurement for productivity gain.

 

3. Results

Student feedback regarding this tool was obtained by incorporating questions evaluating the Track-IT time tracking tools in the homework reports. During the first year the homework assignment was included, students noted that both partners should be actively involved in activity recording to balance the workload, and profit completely from the experience. As a result, the requirements were changed the following year to ensure all members of the groups actively participated in both recording and analysis stages. The change to include both manual and Track-IT assisted data recording did not greatly change the students’ experience, in part because after manual time- recording, students then entered that data into the Track-IT pro system manually in order to take advantage of its reports.

All commented on the greater capacities and ease of use of the ETRT relative to the manual system, despite occasional difficulties remembering to activate or deactivate the unit. Unfortunately, during the second year, the ETRT did not always download reliably on the first try, although it always worked eventually. Track-IT light was also viewed positively, but found less useful than the ETRT since few students use a single computer (or any computer for that matter) for all their working activities. As a result, Track-IT light usage became semi-manual. Notably, students noted their tendency to reduce the accuracy of their time recordings when manual recording was involved, underlining the value-added by the use of this technology.

 

Discussion

Evolution of the tool

While application of this tool to the Work Study course only began in 1996, the idea of an electronic project time management system began in 1989 when two engineers needed to find a better means of recording their time to improve project and activity management for the company they worked for. They developed the first prototype of Track-IT handheld ETRT for this study, and then moved to implement existing Hand Held units in the market (Palm, Web PDA's.). This experience proved to be very useful and beneficial to their company and shortly thereafter to other clients inspiring Dovico to develop and introduce improvements of this system.

The project time tracking system was first developed for professionals who needed to keep track of the time they spent on projects and activities for clients. In 1994, Dovico applied this technology for time study to enhance work performance and it became apparent that users could benefit from existing technology such as desktop computers to record their time. As an alternative to Dovico’s handheld unit, Track-IT light, web edition, wireless, PDA, and more were developed in following years to fulfill this need.

Evolution of Work Study classroom applications

When Track-IT was first briefly introduced to Work Study students in Winter 1996 in a purely lecture format, they were visibly excited by the possibilities of the time management tool. The laboratory described above was incorporated into their Work Study course in the Fall 1996, and each year after this. Students consistently enjoyed using the system, although they note that using the handheld unit required more concentration than they sometimes are able to give it. They noted that this time tracking system could also be used to enhance "Study Habits " training courses, showing how they view this application as relevant to their world outside the classroom. This overwhelmingly positive feedback, while not analyzed statistically, ensures that Track-IT will continue to be used in future years to demonstrate a useful, new technology to students of Work Study.

As the development of Track-IT time tracking software programs continues to evolve, their application remains relevant to the Work Study learning environment. The latest versions have been developed to implement and address many factors from the original study, and continues forms of time entry are being developed. This will improve the availability of the hand held devices which is important considering students’ varying work environments. In addition, the new platforms will allow users to take advantage of standard existing time tracking software, and devices. These tools greatly benefit work measurement analyses by facilitating time recording during self-study sessions while maintaining the portability and downloading error-free information in less than one minute. Notably, since Track-IT measures time usage by minute, it does not replace stopwatch-based systems but instead it allows analysis of time usage for tasks of long duration where seconds are not significant.

In short, in Work Study as in all work, to evolve, we must adopt new, more efficient ways to perform tasks. Electronic tools help automate these tasks, allowing greater productivity to reach goals otherwise impossible to achieve. Thomas Carlyle’s statement that "Man is a tool-using animal... without tools he is nothing, with tools he is all" (Auren 1976)  underlines the potential enrichment to work study available with Track-IT tools.

***

Aft, Lawrence S., " Work Measurement in the Computer age " and " Buyer’s guide " IIE Solutions, April 1998, pp.40-41, 42-44.

Dovico Software, internal report prepared for The Co-Operators Insurance / Financial Services, New Brunswick, 95a.

Internal report prepared for NBTel (Alliant Telecom), New Brunswick, 95b.

PARKER, Marilyn M. and Robert J. Benson, Information Economics, Linking Business Performance to Information technology, Chapter 11, pp 122-133, Prentice-Hall, Inc., New Jersey, 1988.

URIS, Auren, The executive deskbook, New York, Van Nostrand Reinhold Company, 1976, p. 289.

 

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