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Murder and Motion Study
October 29 2008
[ Non-fiction : Crime/ ]

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Early in my career as an attorney, I made a trip out of state to consult with my father regarding a problem he was having. Like the famed, fictional “consulting detective” Sherlock Holmes, sometimes I would be tasked to investigate one mystery or another. A few times during my career, I have been asked to look into a mysterious death. This particular trip, many years ago, was one such occasion. Somebody had died, and my father wanted to figure out if the death was a murder.

At the time, my father was nearing the end of his life long career serving as a certified industrial engineer for a famed manufacturing company. Motion study was his particular expertise.

They Come Cheaper by the Dozen

While in grade school, I came across an old copy of a book entitled Cheaper by the Dozen in the local library and I checked it out and took it home to read. This book, first published in 1948, told the remarkable story of one Frank Gilbreth, the brilliant scientist who first explored and then championed the science of motion study. Gilbreth reasoned that most jobs could be made much more efficient if all the movements that particular laborers made during the course of their day were carefully studied and compared to each other worker’s motion habits and movements.

A time and motion study could be used to reduce the number of motions in performing a task in order to increase productivity. Through carefully scrutinizing a bricklayer’s job, Frank Gilbreth reduced the number of motions in laying a brick from 18 to about 5. Hence the bricklayer, once trained pursuant to the results of motion study analysis, both increased productivity and decreased fatigue.

My father explained it this way:

“Son, pretend that you were responsible for one hundred bricklayers. If you carefully studied each bricklayer as he went through his workday, you would be able to figure out which bricklayer was the most efficient bricklayer. You would be looking for the bricklayer who demonstrated true economy of motion. Then you could teach all the other brick layers to go about their job just like the best bricklayer went about his job. That would mean the bricklayers could, as a group, lay more bricks. That means the company who employs the bricklayers saves money over time and does a better job getting brick work completed.”

Gilbreth was a “guru” to most industrial engineers, and especially to my father. My father wanted to make sure that the machinists on his line were working as efficiently as possible. Motion study analysis was performed on hundreds of different jobs within his company. In the end, my father knew to the precise number how many parts any specific machinist should churn out each day. Any variation in the number of parts finished by a worker meant something important to my father. Too many parts from one machinist probably meant that he was hurrying to catch up on a weekly quota and that meant that the error rate would be overly high. Too few parts issued probably meant that the machine itself was having issues or that the machinist was being lazy.

It was all very scientific. My father drilled motion study basics into my head at an early age and he continued to educate me over each summer during my college years, as I worked for him at his factory to put myself through school.

Time and Motion Study for the 21st Century

Chrometa carries on the work that Gilbreth started. Motion study has become something that all too many managers are not aware of. I have yet to find any task that cannot be improved by motion study. Chrometa takes motion study into the 21st Century by adding the scientific and effortless collection of data relating to individual work tasks and serving them up in an easy to digest format.

Gilbreth initially collected motion study evidence by filming the activities of individual laborers. He would then have to spend hundreds of hours studying the resulting films so that he could glean motion study clues from the footage. Chrometa automatically tracks the motions, efforts and activities of large groups of workers so that management can determine where labor time loss takes place. Fantastic. My father would be thrilled.

Investigating the Mysterious Death at Work

Being well educated by my father regarding industrial engineering and motion study analysis, I was prepared, I thought, to assist him regarding the mysterious death that had taken place at his factory.

On a quiet Sunday afternoon, when most of the company’s employees were not at work, my father lead me down into the depths of one of the massive factory buildings. We walked along the concrete walkways, until we reached a very large machine. He pointed to the massive machine, a press, and this machine was the size of a large room. One worker was typically assigned to this press and it was his job to walk into the press itself—the interior was a cube about six feet high, six feet wide and six feet deep, and place a metal object in the center of the cube and then leave the cube. Once outside, the worker would then trigger the press by pressing two different buttons on a consol that was situated about five feet away from the press. Each button was about three feet from the other.

I looked at the mammoth press. “I take it that you discovered the worker assigned to this machine was crushed inside the press?” My father looked at me and agreed that such was the case.

I then looked at the two buttons that trigger the crushing action of the press. “I also take it that both buttons here have to be pressed at the same time?” Again, my father nodded his agreement.

And, finally, I asked “and I assume that the reason that both buttons are so far apart is to make it more difficult for the worker to cheat? That is, this is a safety device? If he has to push both buttons at the same time it would be impossible for the man to be inside the press when it comes down?”

My father smiled, and replied, “That’s the idea. We learned from motion studies that some workers will try to cheat safety devices so that they can work faster when they are behind. Since such attempts to improperly speed up their activities can lead to work habits that are dangerous, we have engineered various safety devices to make that more difficult. In this case, the worker has to push both buttons at the same time and they are placed so that if a worker does push both buttons at the same time, the worker can’t possibly be within, in whole or in part, the press. Or so we thought.”

I shuddered when I thought about the press coming down on a human. Clearly, the man had been murdered. But what strikes me now is that my father, back in the day, had to look at each employee individually and one at a time in order to understand what they were doing. Chrometa allows companies to look at large groups of workers simultaneously and provides precise data regarding each minute of their workday.

Using Time and Motion Study to Improve Workforce Productivity

It’s easy to understand how Chrometa can be used to examine large numbers of employees who have been assigned the same task. For example, if one hundred employees are processing insurance claims at a particular company Chrometa would automatically collect vital information about how those workers went about their workday.

Chrometa would then provide precise insight into how this particular workforce actually spends its time. After locating relevant issues, management can then pinpoint specific actions to take to increase employee productivity. And, drawing upon the original wisdom of Gilbreth combined with modern technology, management can also establish achievable productivity benchmarks and metrics based on real time study data.

So it’s easy to understand how Chrometa benefits a company that wants to take a closer look at a specific group of workers who are engaged in the same activities. A loan processing department, or a claims processing department are both good examples of where Chrometa could be used to understand how employees are spending their time.

But let’s consider a broader use of Chrometa.

Chrometa could also be used to compare workers who perform jobs that are unlike in nature. But, what could be learned by comparing the day-to-day activities of employees who are working in different areas of a large company on different types of jobs?

You might learn, for example, that certain workers who generally are expected to spend little time on the telephone are spending more time on the telephone than your telephone sales people are.

When I conduct a broad-spectrum standard deviation analysis I sometimes find the following: when we compare a large enough number and broad enough spread of various, seemingly unrelated metrics, we are often shocked at what we learn. If Chrometa should be used across a wide spectrum of various employee positions that are seemingly unrelated would, I believe, result in some surprising findings that could be used for the benefit of the subject company.

I looked up at my father. “Dad, did you find that any of the safety equipment was faulty on the day this guy died?” He shook his head in the negative.

“I think, son, that he was behind on the day that he died. He probably had a friend work the two trigger buttons so he could save the steps of walking back and forth from the press to the stations where the buttons are. And something went wrong. I’m hoping it was an accident.”

It’s unfortunate that my dad didn’t have Chrometa installed on that fateful day. Chrometa would have shown what time an employee in another department had prematurely stopped working his shift, regardless of which department that particular person was working. If he had left his station for an hour or two to walk down to the press and help the press operator “cheat” on that day, Chrometa would have located a missing block of time for the worker who left his station to help his friend meet his quota. If that missing block of time matched the time the unfortunate press operator had died, we would have isolated a substantial clue.

The death at my father’s factory took place in the early morning hours of what was then called the “Graveyard Shift,” perhaps an overly apt title. Although the buildings during the day were crowded with hundreds of workers, during this late shift forty or so workers were scattered here and there working alone through the night on various rush projects. The massive press was a lonely place that fateful night with all the other workers located elsewhere in the building. It would be difficult to locate the person who might have accidently, or otherwise, pushed the two trigger buttons that lead to a man being crushed to death.

Chrometa reveals much once it is turned on, but it has to be installed and activated before it opens its magic window into employee behavior. A systematic approach to collecting precise information and data about employee work methods and habits can reveal (and usually does) some very unexpected findings. During these economic times, corporations cannot afford NOT to install and use Chrometa.

The death of the press operator went unsolved. Many corporations have unsolved mysteries of their own…”why is it taking so long for us to process loan modifications?” “Why does our claims department take forever to process claims when all the employees look very busy?”

Chrometa is the consulting detective for the workplace that can help any corporation solve such mysteries.
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