By: Paul Van Metre
The topic of time tracking in job shops is a sensitive one in many shops. Machinists and others sometimes feel that time tracking is nothing more than “big brother” watching them, looking for mistakes, or ways to get them to work harder. Trying to get these shops to adopt time tracking seems like a daunting task, with a lot of pushback from employees who insist they won’t track their time. These employees have some power because it’s hard to replace a well-experienced machinist these days. As we described in a previous article, there is a significant lack of skilled machinists in the trade, so shop owners are reluctant to do something that upsets their employees. Also, in many shops, there is a precedent of time tracking being misused for the wrong reasons during a failed past attempt, and employees being rightfully reluctant to track time again. I’ve even heard from shop owners that they don’t want their employees taking the time out of their day to track time. They feel that tracking time isn’t worth the time to do it, and they’d rather have their employees spending 100% of their time “making parts” rather than spend even a few minutes per day to track their time.
In other shops, they’ve solved this problem, and employees willingly track time. Shop owners have used the right approach to get employees to understand the importance of doing so, and the owners themselves use the time tracking data effectively to help improve the company to the benefit of everyone in the organization.
The fact is that time tracking is one of the most important activities that shop employees can participate in. The old saying “you can’t improve something that you don’t measure” is highly applicable in this situation. Without good data on how long different jobs and activities are taking, it’s nearly impossible for shop managers to do their jobs well, which creates a dynamic where both parties rely on each other to do their jobs to the best of their abilities which only helps the shop improve.
Time tracking is essential for the following activities:
- Scheduling - Scheduling of jobs is one of the most important challenging activities a shop must be good at to have a high on-time delivery rating. Time tracking is essential to accurate scheduling. Scheduling for new work orders is based on the estimated time to set up, inspect and run production on the various work centers needed to make those parts. As the job moves through the facility, it’s important to know how much time has been spent and how much is remaining based on the best estimate available. This is only possible with all employees tracking time so the schedule can be as up-to-date and accurate as possible. This data is also used to make bigger decisions about hiring, buying machines, etc.
- Estimating - Even the very best machine shop estimator, or estimating software is never 100% accurate. The process of improving the accuracy of estimating over time is contingent on having employees track the real-time it took to do those jobs, and that data is fed back into the system to improve the estimating accuracy for the next time the job is run or the next similar part that needs to be estimated. Anything more than a gut feel will require time tracking data collection from the employees who worked on those jobs. Even better would be noted to describe what happened during those labor hours and why work orders took longer than expected. Having accurate estimates that the shop employees trust is absolutely essential to the success of any job shop.
- Job Costing - At the end of the day, fewer things are more important than accurate job costing. The number of shops that have no idea how profitable or unprofitable individual jobs are is astounding to me. Since labor is typically the largest cost in any job shop, accurately calculating the cost of labor hours is highly important to achieving accurate job costing. Accurate job costing allows shop management to make smarter decisions such as what to do with jobs that are unprofitable, either increasing the price, working on improving the job, or getting rid of the job. At our shop we called this process “kill the losers”, and in any shop floor, a well-managed job tracking process to improve or get rid of bad jobs will result in a profound improvement in overall profitability which should benefit everyone.
- Employee Evaluation - This is one of the reasons that employees are reluctant to track time. Good employees shouldn’t be afraid of this, and in fact, they should welcome it, because the good employees have nothing to worry about, as they specifically will benefit from a good time tracking system. It’s the bad employees who will eventually be weeded out when a thorough time tracking system is put in place. When the employees who care about the company's success are left, it creates a more positive culture that benefits everyone.
Tips to Getting Buy-In on Time Tracking
If your shop employees are reluctant to time tracking, here are a few tips to get them on board with the idea:
- Explain the reasons why time tracking is important. It’s not because you want to monitor their every move, it’s because of all the reasons above. It’s critical for the success of your company. If they care about the company, they should understand this. It will also be good for the employees when their formal evaluations and considerations for raises come up.
- Offer a cash bonus. For a couple of months offer some cash or a prize to the employee who does the most time tracking. It doesn't need to be a big amount, just something to get their competitive juices going, and something they can look forward to. Then give a smaller amount to everyone who participates as well as the winner.
- Pizza party for a company goal. Set a goal for total time tracking for the company and offer to bring in lunch for the whole team. Start low, maybe 60%, and then increase it 10% over time. Once you’re at 90+% and you’ve provided 4-5 free meals to people, there will be a more positive attitude about time tracking. And you’ll have amazing data to help the company.
- Say "thank you". When you see an employee doing a good job at tracking time, a genuine 'thank you' and a pat on the back will go a long way. Also, make a point of thanking them publicly as well at company meetings and events.
One last important point is that it’s crucial that shop management doesn’t misuse the time tracking data to beat employees up or make them feel like the data is being used against them. Nothing will torpedo this important initiative faster than misusing the data and not bringing an empathic understanding to analyzing and discussing the data with the team. When time tracking and the data it provides are used constructively, and those positive improvements are shared with employees, the natural result will be a virtuous upward cycle that benefits all the stakeholders in the shop.