Job observation (DILO) How-To practical guide
This page is a practical guide to perform a job or activity observation (also called DILO as "Day In the Life Of). It is a follow up of the Job Observation methodology and tools page describing what is a job observation, its objectives and the general methodology. The templates are in the Job Observation templates page.
We make the following assumptions on the Job observation context:
- the people performing the job observation are consultants, external or internal to the organisation
- the job observations are all or part of an Operational Excellence assessment
- there is a key ‘client’ contact (an internal client for internal consultants) knowledgeable of the context of the assessment and Job Observation
Some circumstances may prevent to apply all recommendations below; however, this is at risk to reduce the quality of output and the overall credibility of the consultants (and the client as well). Job Observation’s are incredibly powerful, they look easy to perform (and they are when everything is done well) but they may be risky. Because they are visible in the organisation and they are about people who could feel judged, pressured, stressed…
There are eight steps to perform a Job Observation
- Validate it is possible to perform job observations
- Define the exact objective
- Define where, when, how long, how many and who
- Customise and validate the Job Observation templates
- Prepare the job observation
- Execute the job observation
- Build the report and feedback
- Perform additional analysis –Value-Add increase
When the consultant is a team of consultants, the step 1 to 4 are in general managed by the team manager (or the nominated consultant in charge of all Job Observations) while the steps 5 to 8 are managed by each consultant performing an observation.
Step 1: Validate it is possible to perform Job Observations
It is not always possible to perform job observations, mainly because of Unions or personnel representatives’ opposition. This step needs to be taken very seriously. We have seen job observations stopped half the way through by the Unions, even when the top client thought we could and authorized to perform them; it jeopardized the entire assessment and considerable efforts were needed to improve the situation, but we could not continue job observations.
Always involve the Human Resource Director, double check, triple check. When there are unions or personnel representatives don’t be afraid to be proactive and to meet them; or ask the HR director to validate the DILO study with them. Anyway, they will know, sooner or later; sooner is better. Show them what a Job Observation is, and what it is not; as explained in the Job Observation methodology and tools page.
Step 2: Define the exact objective
The Job Observation schematically provides two types of outputs:
- a qualitative insight of a person activities and issues he encountered
- a more quantitative evaluation of the Non-Value-Add activities (for an operator Observation) or of the breakdown of different managerial type of activities (for a supervisor Observation)
The first is the easiest and minimum output coming from a Job Observation; it is almost a given. However, the level of quantification and details needed for the second output has a significant impact on the overall observation process; it must be clearly defined to execute the right Job Observation in the right way.
We have defined four ‘levels’ of objective related to the quantification importance:
- Level 1: Get an understanding of ‘real life’ activities, with examples and interesting stories; no quantification
- Level 2: Roughly evaluate the proportion of Value-Add (VA) vs. Non-Value-Add activities (NVA)
- Level 3: Identify as precisely as possible the NVA activities and whenever possible their root causes
- Level 4: Though the Job Observation exercise isn’t fit for full representativity, you may want to get as much representativity as possible.
The impact of these four levels on the DILO process will be described in the following next steps.
Step 3: Define where, when, how long, how many and who
The major driver to define these five criteria is the representativity of the observations since, by nature, it is very difficult to get a good Job Observation representativity without spending a considerable effort. Therefore, there is always the need to take the best ‘sample’, which is a mix of the five criteria.
The ‘where’ can be a functional or a physical area or a combination of both. For example, in a production plant, we may want to analyse the ‘production’ area and the ‘maintenance’ area, which may also be subdivided (e.g. production line A, B, C for the production; electrical, mechanical…for the maintenance).
The ‘when’ can be split in several categories:
- selecting the different ‘teams’ if the operations are organised with several shifts (e.g. morning, afternoon, night or week, week-end)
- selecting representative days when the operations are supposed to be ‘normal’; an alternative is to select ‘extreme days’ if they have an important impact on the overall performance of the organisation
The ‘how long’ means ‘how long should each individual observation last’. The baseline duration is the person entire work duration. However, it might be shortened if:
- the activities are supposed to be very similar through the entire person work duration
- there is a lack of time to perform full day job observation, or if the need for representativity is high (Objective level 4); in this latter case, it is better to have a high number of shorter observations than the opposite since it enables to cover more people, in more areas, at different times, for the same total amount of observation time. That can be statistically challenged, but this is at least generally better in terms of people perception, mostly because more people are met, so it is more visible. And perception is key in this type of analysis.
‘How many’ is directly driven by the objective Level:
Level 1: even one job observation may be enough to have at least some ‘feeling’ about the operations
Level 2 and 3: at least one job observation in each core area. It is generally not necessary to cover all the combinations possible. For example, in a two-shift production area with two production lines, performing two job observations, one in production line 1 during the morning shift and one in production line 2 during the afternoon shift may be enough and saves two job observations.
Level 4: without being statistically rigorous, the number of observations should reach or be above twenty; all or most of the combinations should be observed, and possibly with several observations for each combination.
The ideal candidates to be observed are:
- people who are willing to be observed or at least not afraid of having someone observing them
- people who have an ‘average’ performance to get some representativity. Alternatively, people with low or high performance could be observed but that automatically generates more observations.
If only Level 1 objective is desired (pure qualitative), and specially if there are very few job observations, it is best to select someone who is likely to speak up to get a good level of qualitative outputs.
When there are strong unions or personnel representative the choice of people may have to be discussed with them.
The following table gives the criteria best fit for the different objectives. These are indicative and must be adapted to each situation.
Level 2 and 3
Where & when
Full job duration
Full job duration
Full job duration
Partial duration if similar all time
Average and Talkative
Average or a combination of high, average, low performers
Pragmatic decision process to list and identify the actual people to observe
Whether you are external or internal consultant, the criteria above and the final choice of persons might be discussed in three phases:
- the ‘client’ contact; he is in general the main person able to review the criteria and give the first choice or recommendations
- the key stakeholders of the overall assessment in which the Observation takes place. The larger the scope of observations, the more managers might be involved (e.g. one for each area) to discuss and validate the choices
- finally, the direct managers of the people (pre)selected should be involved; at minimal they are informed so they can help in the next ‘preparation step’, but they may also participate in the final people selection.
When there is a team of several consultants, the sub-steps 1, and possibly 2 are generally managed by the team manager (or the nominated consultant in charge); the consultant actually performing the observation may be involved in sub-step 2 while he is often involved in sub-step 3.
Step 4: Customise and validate the Job Observation templates
The actual templates to use for each type of job observation must be reviewed, and customised if necessary, to make sure they are adapted to the type of jobs that are observed, and to the objectives.
It is usually a good practice to review the activity categories with the key client. That is an opportunity to demonstrate your expertise in what is a Value-Add / Non-Value-Add activity (or Muda type 1 and 2 in Lean terminology) and to coach the client. And it reduces the risk that he doesn’t really understand and challenges you on the findings, especially when it is already ‘too late’ (e.g. when officially presenting the results in a Steering Committee).
For more details, look at the Job Observation templates page.
Step 5: Prepare the Job Observation
This step is about the preparation of each individual observation. It must be carried out by the actual consultant who will perform the work observation.
There are three sub-steps:
- Get information about the job to be observed
- Book actual observation slot and Communicate with the person to be observed
- Review and customise the observation template
Get information about the job to be observed
The higher the level of understanding of the job that will be observed the higher the chances to execute it well. Because during the observation, the chances to ask the person what is going on are limited; hence, we may record incorrect information (or none) and damage our credibility.
Collect the following information when accessible; either by reading some documentation or interviewing someone knowledgeable
- Description of the process(s) that the person observed uses with the key activities to perform
- List or description of typical issues: bottlenecks, product defects or service quality…
- Typical volume of output during a normal day (e.g. production volume in production, number of calls in helpdesk centre…)
Go and visit the physical location with someone (in general the manager of the area) to give you some explanations:
- Familiarize yourself with the environment and ask questions to clarify the process
- Observe shortly a colleague of the person who will be fully observed, doing the same job; or even better, observe directly the person you will observe during the actual job observation so he gets to know you (and you do the sub-step 3 at the same time); this time you may ask questions to your accompanying person because you don’t mind interfering a bit (shortly!) with the person activities.
Communicate with the person to be observed and book actual job observation slot
If you haven’t met yet with the person in the previous sub-step, this is time to do it.
Ask the person’s manager to introduce you to him.
Tell who you are, what is the objective of the job observation, and most specifically what it is not: not a time and motion study, not an evaluation of the person, not judgmental.
Ask them if they have questions and answer them.
Be friendly; you are here to understand the issues and ultimately to make their job more interesting by reducing them (though you may find people who love issues because that is what makes their job interesting in a sort of ‘Hero culture’!).
Validate the exact work hours of the person, the day you are supposed to observe them; they may have different work hours than supposed, this day.
Validate where and when you will meet them.
Review the Job Observation template
Review the template, especially the activity breakdown. It will help you understand what to focus on during the observation.
Step 6: Execute the Job Observation
- Be on time to meet the person to observe.
- Follow completely all safety requirements (e.g. clothing, Personal Protection Equipment)
- Again, be friendly with the person, emphasize that your interest is in understanding the problems they typically face, the systems and processes they use – it is not an individual evaluation or a time & motion exercise
- Use a notebook, and write down every activity; replicate the appropriate template "Timesheet" columns; it is not recommended to print and use the "Timesheet" since the row’s height may not fit your notes
- Take notes as it happens - You will miss detail if you don’t; after a full day of observation you may get confused.
- Keep a dialogue going with the person observed but minimise your own perturbation on the activities; don’t create Non-Value-Add yourself!
- Ask questions to understand possible causes of problems as they occur - use their quotes / comments in the study.
- If you don’t understand an activity, ask the person to explain it to you
- When the person is busy, write down the question to ask it later; use the moments the person is idle, waiting for something…
- Understand use of and compliance to standard operating procedures, processes…
- Respect the person break times:
- ask them if they are ok that you take the coffee or cigarette break with them; it is a good opportunity to talk, but some people prefer being alone during their breaks
- this is even more important to ask for the meal break
- don’t follow them to the bathroom
- Collect all volume / waste info... as it happens (when not preventing you to perform the observation; which is the main goal); it often cannot be collected afterwards
- At the end of the observation, do ask whether it is a “typical” day; if not ask why
- Use a “stop watch”. Record the time of the activities with a normal watch without too much insistence; we don’t need to be 100% accurate, this is an estimation.
- Comment, criticize or make jokes about the work; don’t share your judgements on what is VA/NVA during the study
- Confront or try and problem solve for them – leave that for the project! The only exception is when there is a safety issue
- Don’t write vague comments like: “Entered something into computer”. You must know what they are entering, into what system
Step 6: Build the report and feedback
Fill in the template just after the observation when your memory is still good.
You must refer to the person you are following as ‘subject’, ‘the person’…; don’t use names.
Compare the performance (volume, quality…) of the area observed during the observatioin and the historical performance to see if the day of the work observation is typical. Adjust the message if not.
After having validated with the person observed, come back to him/she to ensure that what you captured in the ‘Timesheet’ is correct, to ask for clarification if necessary and to find root causes of issues you identified
Build your final report in the appropriate format.
Review the outputs with the area manager; ask for root causes if some are still unclear
Step 7: Perform additional analysis – Value-Add increase
Job Observations can be quite helpful to identify root causes (or drivers) as well as how their resolution (or implementation) would impact the personal, typically:
- reducing the Non-Value-Add activities for the operational roles
- increasing the active supervision activities proportion for a supervisor
This step is optional and is in general possible only if there are many observations and the root causes are well identified. This typical applies when the objective is a Level 4 objective.
This analysis may be quite complex, involving other inputs or workshops, and isn’t described here since this is not the goal of this section.
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