Observation “Day in the Life Of” (DILO) - Analysis method

Observation of a worker operational environment

What is a DILO?

A DILO is the observation of an individual as he performs his normal, everyday job, while the observer makes a written record of each and every activity the worker does. Additionally, the observer records the individual’s quotes, comments and any other data.

The two primary types of DILO are: the operational DILO, i.e., an individual who conducts operational activities; and a supervisory DILO, i.e., the individual is a manager.

Why use a DILO, and why not?

To gain a concrete understanding of the job and the operational issues encountered as well as that of the work environment and its organisational culture.

To identify the types, quantities and causes of non-value-added activities.

To ‘close the loop’ and give a more concrete meaning to other analysis that is more conceptual or ‘declarative,’ such as data analysis and interviews.

To assess supervisory behaviours and effectiveness (for the supervisory DILO).

It is important to state that a DILO is neither a time study nor a motion study, nor is it an evaluation of the individual (the output is entirely anonymous); it focuses on understanding how the environment, work conditions and procedures impact the individual’s activities, not on the individual himself.

When is a DILO applicable?

A DILO best applies to jobs that are rather repetitive in their operational tasks, such as the work of production or maintenance operators, sales administrators, customer support agents and accountants, as well as their managers.

It is also relatively applicable to jobs that are partially repetitive, such as the jobs of sales representatives and field service technicians. The focus is more on understanding the job than on the quantifying causes of non-value-added activities.

It does not apply to highly complex jobs and jobs that are not repetitive, such as research and development, marketing, legal or high-level management. For these activities, a functional analysis is a better fit.

How long does it take, and how many should we do?

The basic rule is to perform one DILO per one full workday for each individual for two primary reasons:
  1. Though the jobs are quite repetitive, the individual may still perform some different tasks during a typical workday, depending on how the job is organized; therefore, the DILO must incorporate an entire workday to gain a thorough overview of the scope of all of the work activities.
  2. When someone is observed, his behaviour, intentionally or not, may differ somewhat from his usual behaviour, but it typically doesn’t last the full day. As the day wears on, the person usually begins to relax more. It is difficult to act differently for an entire day.

The ‘good’ number of DILOs is balanced between two opposing factors:
  1. It is a time-consuming activity, so the observer cannot do too many during one day.
  2. Multiple observations are necessary to obtain a completely representative analysis, especially considering the different variations of the same job, e.g., production operators on different machines.

What are the key hurdles in DILOs, and how do I mitigate them?

It is difficult to get a good representational analysis because each person observed is different, and every day is different. This difficulty can be mitigated slightly by:
  • Performing shorter observations, e.g., a half-day as opposed to a full workday, which comprises an additional number of workers, but overall, still completes the same number of hours of observations.
  • Checking that during the observations, the performance of the job was ‘normal.’ If the observed worker is a customer service agent, for example, that he received an average number of calls, emails or cases to manage during his day and that, on average, they were of the same type or of a similar complexity.
  • Since the objective of performing a DILO is not to be representative, then we should not look for that quality as a primary target. The observation must be complemented with analysis that includes additional numerical information, such as data analysis, along with questionnaires and short interviews.

Individuals might be reluctant or afraid to be observed. Of course, it is probably stressful to have someone observing you all day, not knowing exactly what the observation will report. This stress can be mitigated by:
  • Communicating well in advance with the stakeholders, and, in particular, with his manager as to the goals of the study and what it is not (neither a time study nor a motion study nor an individual evaluation).
  • Meet the worker before the observation day to reassure him as to the scope of the analysis and what it will entail.
  • During the observation: Be cordial to the person while observing him, respect his pauses, and act according to the goals of the project, e.g., don’t carry a stopwatch.*


Before you even begin a DILO, is important to work with the HR director to understand if you incur any risk.
If risks exist, the best way to deal with them, in general, is to meet with the union representative and the individual’s personal representative to explain the definition of a DILO and its goals, but primarily, that it is not about the individual or his work ethic.
An argument you can present is also that the DILO is an opportunity for individuals to raise his concerns (they can be part of the report), and for management to understand the issues individuals have so they can be resolved.

* the use of a stopwatch is not aligned with the what the DILO is not (a time studu); in addition, unions or personal representative might oppose to its use.

Who should perform it?

DILOs are often performed by a consultant, either external or internal. If this is the case, even if it is a more junior consultant who performs the bulk of them (it is a time-consuming activity), it’s recommended that all personnel, up to the team senior management level, perform at least one. A DILO provides many insights as well as the ability to ‘tell a story’ in a client boardroom presentation, both of which make it worth the investment.

It may seem awkward that a manager of the very organization that is being analysed performs the DILO, but with good communication, it can be done. In addition, as one client stated, “It is a chance for me to gain a full understanding of the operations I am supposed to drive before it is too late; I want to do one!”


Example of Output

Operational DILO
Supervisory DILO


Optional additional analysis

The operational DILO analysis may also lead to, or be one of analysis that contributes to, an estimation of how many non-value-added activities can be reduced, which is generally performed via a root cause analysis workshop or something similar.

There is less a notion of value-added activity for the supervisory role DILO, but more a type of supervision (active or passive, adminstrative tasks...). Therefore, the DILO is used primarily as input to improve the manager’s role, style and competencies.

Do benchmarks exist as to what constitutes a good ratio of ‘value-added’ activities for an operational DILO?

This would be so nice to have! However, this depends primarily on the type of job and, specifically, the repetitive nature of the job. We have observed jobs that comprise more than 90 percent value-added tasks, but still, some improvements were possible. But, as a general rule of thumb, we could say that it is hard to go above 80 to 85 percent.



Do you work in a high-performance organisation?
Find out if your company or team is using the best management practices by answering Wevalgo's self-assessments

Become an improvement leader within your team by sharing your analyses


Click on one of the following buttons to start

You will benefit from the expertise of management consultants who have implemented these best practices with thousands of managers around the world. Wevalgo puts this know-how, secretly guarded by traditional consultancies, at your service.

Evaluate your clients' practices if you are a consultant.    

You may also access our unique directory of by function and industry

Stay Informed

When you subscribe to the blog, we will send you an e-mail when there are new updates on the site so you wouldn't miss them.

Related Posts



No comments made yet. Be the first to submit a comment
Already Registered? Login Here
Saturday, 25 May 2024