In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Time and Motion Studies

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Management Time and Motion Studies
Steven Harper, Fariss-Terry Mousa
  • LAST REVIEWED: 28 January 2013
  • LAST MODIFIED: 28 January 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199846740-0027


Time and motion study (also referred to as motion and time study, the terms are used interchangeably) is the scientific study of the conservation of human resources in the search for the most efficient method of doing a task. A fascination with the word “efficiency” began in the late 19th and early 20th centuries when it was considered one of the most important concepts. Time study began in the 1880s as a means of wage-rate setting by Frederick W. Taylor, who is regarded as the “father of scientific management.” It consists of a wide variety of procedures for determining the amount of time required, under certain standard conditions of measurement, for tasks involving some human activity. Motion study was developed by Frank B. Gilbreth and Lillian M. Gilbreth and consists of a wide variety of procedures for the description, systematic analysis, and means of improving work methods. It is difficult to separate these two aspects completely. Therefore, the combined term usually refers to all three phases of the activity: method determination, time appraisal, and development of material for the application of these data. Frank and Lillian also broadened scientific management by including the human element, therefore using psychology to gain the cooperation of employees. Motion and time analysis could be used to help find a preferential way of doing the work and could assist in effectively managing or controlling the activity. This approach has been successfully applied to factories, hospitals, department stores, housework, banks, cafeteria work, libraries, music, and to many other human activities. For instance, factories have used it to reduce wasted time and improve the time to compete a task, while banks use it to help team members reach their sales goals. However, the goal of a time and motion study is not simply efficiency. These studies are done to create a baseline that can be used in the future when evaluating procedural, equipment, or personnel changes. The goal can be to understand the skills required to enable individuals to perform the work and, thus, to provide the correct training. Another may be to reduce the discomfort experienced, especially in the case of surgical procedures—a goal such as this, namely, to create less tissue damage, may run counter to efficiency. In the case of athletes, the goal may be faster speed or more endurance, which may be achieved not necessarily by the most efficient way.

Classic Books

Frank and Lillian Gilbreth wrote some of the original work that laid the foundation for the field of motion and time study. They were the pioneers of motion study. Although many believe that Taylor began this area of inquiry due to his book on scientific management (Taylor 2010), however, debate continues on whether Taylor was the actual author (see Wrenge and Stoka 1978 for more details). Frank Gilbreth started out by applying his observations on reducing fatigue and improving processes in his own bricklaying contracting business (Gilbreth 1974). He achieved results that could not be ignored. The three stages used in motion study are detailed in Gilbreth 2008. In this forward-looking book, the author considers the habits, health, nutrition, size, strength, skills, temperament, and training of the worker as variables that can lead to efficiency. Taylor authored another seminal work (Taylor 2010) in which he laid down the principles of scientific management. Gilbreth 1973 consists of a compilation of letters that Lillian Gilbreth organized into a book to answer the public’s most frequent questions about Taylorism. In Gilbreth and Gilbreth 1973 the authors argue that the main aim of motion study experts is to determine accurately the fatigue resulting from any job and then to eliminate that which was unnecessary by designing convenient workbenches, furnishing chairs, providing regular rest-recovery periods, and so on. Many of these classical books also had direct application to certain fields. For instance, Lillian Gilbreth wrote a book to help homemakers apply motion study in order to improve and reduce wasted movements while working “the finest job in the world” (Gilbreth 1927). She gives practical methods for conducting motion studies when the normal tools used in industrial settings are not available (e.g., string being unwound while following someone clearing the table in the place of motion pictures).

  • Gilbreth, Frank B. Primer of Scientific Management. Easton, PA: Hive, 1973.

    This book contains letters with answers to questions about the elimination of unnecessary human effort and was written in response to Taylor 2010) (originally published in 1912). The answers cover definitions, laws or principles, and application of the laws of scientific management. Chapter 4 covers the effect of scientific management on the worker and the last chapter expands scientific management to other activities such as schools and colleges. Originally published in 1914.

  • Gilbreth, Frank B. Bricklaying System. Easton, PA: Hive, 1974.

    This first book that Frank Gilbreth authored details the results of his motion study on bricklayers. The text gives a systematic view of bricklaying covering the materials, personnel, and equipment used in the process. He reports the methods that he devised for all aspects of brick construction. Results allowed him to reduce wasted motions, resulting in a tripling of productivity while decreasing fatigue. Originally published in 1909.

  • Gilbreth, Frank B. Motion Study: A Method for Increasing the Efficiency of the Workman. Whitefish, MT: Kissenger Publishing, 2008.

    This work highlights the three stages involved in using motion study: discovering and classifying the best practice, deducing the laws that make it the best practice, and using these laws to standardize practice to increase efficiency. Variables of the motions needed to perform the work are covered and how to create motion charts that will serve as the basis for making changes that improve efficiency. Originally published in 1911.

  • Gilbreth, Frank B., and Lillian M. Gilbreth. Fatigue Study: The Elimination of Humanity’s Greatest Waste; A First Step in Motion Study. Easton, PA: Hive, 1973.

    Fatigue study enhanced efficiency so as to reveal its benefits to workers in a tangible way. The authors claim that motion study, unlike other scientific management approaches, actually humanized work conditions and facilitated industrial peace. Many of these principles are in use today in ergonomic design, and they are stipulated in the US Occupational Safety and Health Administration laws. Originally published in 1919.

  • Gilbreth, Lillian M. The Home-Maker and Her Job. New York: D. Appleton, 1927.

    Lillian Gilbreth examines the home and all the requirements of a homemaker using motion study. She opens in stating: “Home-making is the finest job in the world” (p. vii), and she goes on to discuss how to eliminate wasted effort in the home. She affirms that doing so will lead to more satisfaction, less fatigue, more interest in the work, and more free time to do other things.

  • Taylor, Frederick W. The Principles of Scientific Management. New York: Cosimo Classics, 2010.

    Taylor discusses the concept of time study and motion study using Gilbreth’s bricklaying system as the prime example of the gains in productivity that can be achieved using more scientific methods. This book has been credited with the creation of modern organizational and decision theory, but it has also been criticized for dehumanizing the worker in making them just an extension of the mechanical equipment. Originally published in 1912.

  • Wrenge, Charles D., and Anne M. Stoka. “Cooke Creates a Classic: The Story behind F. W. Taylor’s Principles of Scientific Management.” Academy of Management Review 3.4 (October 1978): 736–749.

    The authors analyze the unpublished manuscript for “Industrial Management” written by Morris L. Cooke and argue that Taylor 2010 is not actually Taylor’s work. Instead, Taylor used much of the material in the first chapters of the Cooke manuscript in his book. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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