An Outline Of Method Study


Although dramatic leaps in progress have been made possible by the discovery of new scientific theories and the invention of new materials and machines, not least computerisation, an individual organisation is probably usually more concernerned with making the best possible use of EXISTING resources. The methods, by which people perform tasks in factories, shops, farms, offices and service establishments, is of interest both to management, and to the people who carry out the tasks.

In the past and still today, in small or simple organisations, methods are gradually improved by trial and error means, carried out either by those who do the work, or those who supervise it. But as firms grow larger or more complex, it is desirable to make a specified function of methods improvement, albeit now at a time in the modern day where a 'Methods Department' may no longer exist.

Method Sudy consists of techniques for recording the details of a method of working, and then setting about improving the method by analytical examination. It can be appied, not only to existing work, but perhaps even more significantly, to proposed work, at the planning stage.

Rider - the term Method Study is used more commonly in the UK rather than the defunct term Motion Study. Where the term Motion Study is met in modern literature, it can be taken as meaning the detailed study of the movements of a person at his/her workplace.

Basic Procedure of Method Study

The secret to success in Method Study lies largely in the adhesion by its practitioners to a basic procedure which ensures every aspect of the job is considered in correct sequence. There are eight steps in this procedure, each of which should always be carried out in the order given. They are as follows:

the work to be studied.
all aspects of the problem.
all the relevant facts.
the facts critically and in ordered sequence.
the best method in the existing circumstances.
the proposals.
the new method as standard practice.
the new method by regular checks.

This process can be called 'SIREDSIM' as a memory jogger.

The steps of the process can now be considered in more detail.


This is the responsibility of management and whether the selection is ultimately the business of one man or a committee, it is imperative that any economic, technical and human factors should be carefully considered before an investigation (study) is commenced.

Properly to carry out a method study investigation will involve at least the salary of the investigating professional for several weeks and probably that of two or more people for a longer period. It follows, therefore, that the first question to ask is whether it will pay to study that particular job - What benefits will derive? There is little point in embarking on a process if the job is in any way temporary, or one of small economic importance to the organisation. Conversely, a job which constitutes a 'bottleneck', or involves much handling or physical work would probably repay closer scrutiny.

Management Services Practitioners are, as a general rule, unlikely to be technicians in anything but Work Study related disciplines and so a preliminary consideration is whether the problem is one for the Management Services professional or a technical specialist. As most problems touch on both fields, it is properly pragmatic to identify, in advance, a source of specialised technical knowledge, either inside or outside the organisation, who can be consulted about any technical concerns that might arise.

Human problems exist at all stages of Method Study and not least at the selection stage. It would be most unwise, for instance, to commence by carrying out an investigation in a department where there had recently been a dispute for this would almost certainly be looked upon with suspicion, and co-operation might be unlikely to be forthcoming. Many firms have failed in their Work Study efforts by mistakenly using Work Study as a cure for disputes, which it clearly is not. Conversely, it often pays to study an unpopular job, where any change in method may be welcome, and, generally speaking, most people react favourably to an interest being taken in them and their jobs, assuming they are approached in the right manner.


Before a study can commence, the investigator needs 'Terms of Reference'. This is imperative since many alleged failures of Method Study can be traced to a lack of understanding between management and Management Services as to what was actually required. Method Study is a detailed, searching technique which can be likened to a microscope. Like that instrument, it can reveal minute but significant issues, and also it can be focused on a small area at any given time. The scope of an investigation has to be contained within defined limits, regarding both the points at which the job begins and ends, and also the depth to which the investigation is designed to go.


There are many recording techniques available to an organisation and it is the job of the Management Services Practitioner to select the most appropriate technique - one which will best highlight any deficiencies in the present method and, in tandem, point the way to any improvements that might be forthcoming. The following are the main techniques that form such an option choice:


When a record or records of the existing method have been made, the next stage is to develop a better(improved) method from critical examination of these recordings. By critical examination is meant the challenging of every stage of the job, asking what is done, where, when, by whom and how. Just how this exercise is carried out depends very much on the type of recording. With a process chart one can challenge each symbol beginning with 'action' operations because these, if eliminated, can affect both associated preparatory work and clearing away. Flow diagrams can be challenged in a similar way, at each stage along the route as well as the route itself. For the photgraphic techniques special methods of analysis have been devised. The purpose of all this analysis is to reveal all possible alternatives, and to devise a better method from a selection of these. In carrying out this work, the practitioner should take great care to be objective, to refrain from attaching any blame to anyone for existing methods, and to beware of any 'bright ideas' until the full anaylsis has been completed.


The success or failure of a Method Study investigation often depends on the way the proposals are submitted to management. Critical analysis merely produces possibilities, and although a certain amount of experimentation and test may have been carried out, the change over to a new method will invariably mean management sanction and action. Proposals, therefore, should be in the form which show clearly the advantages of the proposed method, backed up by as much factual evidence as possible about costs, savings and other relevant data, particularly that affecting jobs and earnings.


When a new method is about to be installed, there are several vital points which both Management Services and management will need to consider. Firstly, there should ideally be as little disturbance as possible with normal production and this may mean a pilot run in part of the department affected at weekend or evenings followed by a gradual change over in the remainder of the department. It is essential also for management to have a policy, well in advance, to deal with such things as the method of payment of operatives during any changeover and retraining period. It will also be unusual if the new method works out exactly as envisaged and all must be prepared for any modifications which may be needed as time and outcomes dictate. For this reason it is necessary to maintain a new method by regular checks and full and frank discussion between all parties concerned.


It might be thought that all problems connected with Work Study arise from the application of Work Measurement and that operatives are not too concerned with methods as long as their pay packets are safeguarded. Nothing could be further from the truth. Logic, even if apparently self-evident, cannot be imposed and it is natural for everyone to resist change. Some people actually enjoy routine jobs and do not welcome a change to more 'interesting' work. Again, the person responsible for the existing method naturally has a vested interest in defending it.

Most of these issues will be less acute if the Management Services professional takes the trouble to keep everyone informed throughout the duration of the investigation and also takes time to canvass for suggestions and ideas and, if possible, to include these and acknowledge same in any subsequent report.

Finally, management should not expect too much from Method Study. Revolutionary changes and enormous savings seldom come from Method Study investigations. The aim should be to have a constant series of small improvements, with as little disruption to the organisation as possible and to foster in operatives the spirit of co-operation so that they themselves will contribute worthwhile ideas for improved methods - after all the people actually doing the job are likely to know best.

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