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Time and motion study

business efficiency technique
Gilbreth in about 1916

Time and motion study is a business efficiency technique combining the time study work of Frederick Winslow Taylor with the motion study work of Frank B. Gilbreth and Lillian Gilbreth. It is a major part of scientific management.


  • Time study is the art of recording, analyzing, and synthesizing the time of the elements of any operation, usually a manual operation, but it has also been extended to mental and machinery operations.
It is one of the many remarkable inventions of Dr. Taylor while he was working at the Midvale Steel Works. It differs from the well-known process of timing the complete operation, as, for instance, the usual method for timing the athlete, in that the timing of time study is done on the elements of the process. Much ridiculous criticism has been put forward by well-meaning but uninformed persons, who claim that timing a worker down to a three hundredth of a minute is unkind, inhuman, and conducive to the worst form of slavery ever known.
On the contrary, obtaining precise information regarding the smallest elements into which an art or a trade can be subdivided, and examining them separately, is the method adopted in all branches of scientific research.
  • Motion study is the science of eliminating wastefulness resulting from using unnecessary, ill-directed, and inefficient motions. The aim of motion study is to find and perpetuate the scheme of least waste methods of labor.
Through its use, we have revolutionized several of the trades. There is probably no art or trade that cannot have its output doubled by the application of the principles of motion study.
  • Micro-motion study, presented for the first time at this meeting, is a new and accurate method of recording and transmitting skill. Based upon the principles of motion study and time study, it makes possible simultaneous measurement of both time and path of motions. It produces an entirely different result from any of the methods attempted by its predecessors, in that it shows a measured difference in the time of day on each and every cinematograph picture, even when the pictures are taken at a rate much faster than ever considered in work where positive films are printed and projected upon the screen.
    • Frank B. Gilbreth. Discussion on "The present state of art of industrial management." Transactions of the American Society of Mechanical Engineering. Vol. 34 (1912). p. 1225
  • Scientific management is not any efficiency device, not a device of any kind for securing efficiency; nor is it may bunch or group of efficiency devices. It is not a new system of figuring costs; it is not a new scheme of paying men; it is not a piece work system; it is not a bonus system; it is not a premium system; it is no scheme for paying men; it is not holding a stopwatch on a man and writing things down about him; it is not time study; it is not a motion study, not an analysis of the movements of men; it is not the printing and loading & unloading of a ton or two of blanks on a set of men and saying "Here's your system; go and use it". It is not divided foremanship or functional foremanship; it is not any of the devices which the average man calls to mind when scientific management is spoken of.
    • Frederick Winslow Taylor (1912) in: The Taylor and other systems of shop management: Hearings before Special committee of the House of Representatives to investigate the Taylor and other systems of shop management under the authority of H. res. 90 … [Oct. 4, 1911-Feb. 12, 1912], Volume 3. p. 1387
  • Hacker: How many people do we have in this department?
Sir Humphrey: Ummm... well, we're very small...
Hacker: Two, maybe three thousand?
Sir Humphrey: About twenty-three thousand to be precise.
Hacker: TWENTY-THREE THOUSAND! In the department of administrative affairs, twenty-three thousand administrators just to administer the other administrators! We need to do a time-and-motion study, see who we can get rid of.
Sir Humphrey: Ah, well, we did one of those last year.
Hacker: And what were the results?
Sir Humphrey: It turned out that we needed another five hundred people.

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