Why “day-in-the-life” studies work

Observation #5

carpedia-observation-5When we are trying to figure out how effective a process is or isn’t, one of the basic studies we do is to spend a day in the life of an employee at some key part of the process. We simply shadow a person for the day and try to see the world through their eyes, capturing what they do, what happens around them, and who and how they interact with others. They are always interesting studies even though they sound both intimidating and boring at the same time. If you think about it, there are really few better ways to understand what issues an employee has to deal with every day.

People often ask if the studies show higher productivity than normal because the person being studied would be self-conscious and have a tendency to be more focused than they might otherwise. This turns out to be somewhat irrelevant. People are naturally a little more focused, and take a few minutes to get comfortable with the observer, but these studies are effective because most operating problems have little or nothing to do with how hard someone works.

As much as 90% of the issues we see that cause waste are a result of how the process is designed, how information or material is coordinated and flows, and how effective management planned out the day. All these issues will happen through the day regardless of whether or not anyone is watching.

During a project we do these studies with managers. The studies are very useful for helping managers visually see how operating problems, within their span of control, affect their employees’ performance. This helps change the mindset from thinking improvement is wholly dependent on the actions of employees or other departments, to understanding the critical role the manager plays in engineering change.