The Lost Art of Activity Sampling

Activity Sampling and more over Time Study Techniques seem to be a lost art within Manufacturing nowadays. I was taught everything comes down to time, and we need to look at the most efficient way we use that time in everything we do.

Activity Sampling for me, is one of those essential tools that you keep in your back pocket, a fantastic technique that enables to economically study a lengthy activity or a group of activities producing statistically accurate data.


What is Activity Sampling?

Over a period of time a group of machines, processes or people can be observed at regular intervals to record what activities are being undertaken. Each observation records what’s happening at that particular time, this then builds to measure a percentage of time that activity occurs thought-out the hour, day, etc.

This technique is particularly useful to estimate the proportion of Value-Added Time to Non Value-Added time that occurs within your business processes. Example observations could be machine breakdowns, moving material, change-overs, waiting, Operating, filling in paperwork, etc. These examples are more aligned to the manufacturing operations point of view, but it is as equally as important in back-office processes and even looking at your own internal time-wasting activities to raise personal productivity.


An Example Activity Sampling in Action

In this example three people/processes are being activity sampled regarding ‘packing’, the activity was completed over a 2 hour period with observations every 2 minutes. The results are shown in the images below.



The above images illustrate the allocated percentages of each activity, we can now start to analyse to see what improvements can be made to work smarter (NOT HARDER), this can go hand in hand with spaghetti diagram to illustrate material and person movement, more detailed time Study work and process mapping.

You ‘ll notice that Packing Process 2 has no computer time in the two hours, as we analyse and ask around the variation, Process Packing 2 batches all of their paperwork up first and then processes it in one hit. Activity sampling would have picked this out even if we had of observed it, as the observation percentage compared to the other two processes would have been higher.



  • It gives unbiased result.
  • lts study may be interrupted at any time without affecting the results.
  • It can be conducted by anyone with limited training.
  • Team work can be studied by activity sampling.
  • It is economical and less time consuming than time study.

Productivity – SMEs Making Slow Progress

UK Productivity and the SME focus

I do find it interesting in reading reports on UK Productivity and the SME focus on how there are a lot of SMEs making slow progress in this arena.

If we step back, which some reports have eluded to… the SME government funded programmes have always been based on growth and employment opportunities (NOT Productivity) so is it any wonder we have some issues. Growth and employment is an excellent focus and most SMEs want more, albeit it does bring its own set of issues and problems.

Additionally in reviewing the Growth and Employment Objective, I also question some of the programmes themselves. When I see that surveys have been completed across their customer base and the customer has highlighted they want Strategy and Tactical Planning, Continuous Improvement, but have been sold Website upgrades, Public Relations, etc. (again though this is aligned to the programme output of growth and employment??? Wrong objective, wrong KPI perhaps???)

Have we shot ourselves in the foot with the focus on Growth and Employment? In some respects, possibly, but we can do something about it? If we accept that’s it’s a problem of course.

Do we need to focus internally? Absolutely, if you want to drive productivity this is where the focus needs to be. (regardless of whether its operations, sales, back office)


Growth is far easier with operations that generate predictable and repeatable results. If they are not stable (least waste way of working) we will now exacerbate the effect on our already poor operational processes and performance (ie: Productivity)

Productivity is only one of the key KPI’s within a business, along with On Time Delivery, Quality, Cash, Profit, etc.. each may have a gap that needs to be worked on.

Each KPI (key performance indicator) needs to be monitored, managed and actioned.

The equation y=f(x) is one I always remember

Y: the outcome or outcomes, result or results, that you want

X: the inputs, factors or whatever is necessary to get the outcome (there can be more than one possible x)

F: the function or process that will take the inputs and make them into the desired outcome

Change the X and you change the Y (limit the variation in X we limit the variation in Y)

#manufacturing #ukmanufacturing #manufacturinguk #gbmfg #ukmfg #smeuk #sme #producitivty

Best Times to Post to LinkedIn, Twitter & Facebook 2019

Most Marketers, Business Owners, Social Media Associates are always trying to find the magical time to post on each platform, unfortunately there is no magical time, there is no cheat, no silver bullet.

It depends on your ideal audience, industry, products/services, content, consistency (always be mindful of consistency), there are multiple variables in play when posting to LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, etc.

Knowing the best times based on overall engagement will certainly give guidance and may even help to strengthen your social media strategy, but as with all things marketing, test it.

Sprout Social (based on their data of 25000+ customer interactions) have listed the best times to post on some of the major platforms.

Here’s an overview of the engagement reports for LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook


LinkedIn has seen significant increase in overall engagement, potentially making it a bigger consideration for your B2B marketing posts.

Sprout’s data shows the best time to post on LinkedIn is Wednesday, between 9am and 10am, and then at 12pm.

A quick overview of each weekday shows that; Monday is between 1pm-3pm; Tuesday is 9am, 1pm & 3pm; Wednesday 9am, 12pm; Thursday 9am, 1pm-3pm; Friday there seems to be a shift in morning to 10am-11am. (this is just my view but you can see the image for each platform and make your own judgements)

Best engagement is Wednesday with the least engagement occurring on Sundays.

Sprout LinkedIn


It still looks like Wednesday and Friday are producing results as previous data, with Tuesday to Friday at 9am being a big block, but you can see that there is a band covering Tuesday to Friday from 9am-11am as well. The Twitter engagement I do find interesting as there are quite a few views you could take on this. Again, try and test!

Sprout says that Tuesdays and Wednesdays are the best days to post your tweets overall, which you can see from the image, a big band cutting across 9am-3pm, Saturday sees the least engagement.

Sprout Twitter


The data suggests that updates posted on Facebook on Wednesdays, between 9am and 3pm, see the most engagement, Sprout narrows this down slightly from their analysis to between 11am-1pm. Thursday sees a good band between 9am-2pm and Friday also seeing high engagement between 9am-11am.

Sprout’s data also suggests that Sundays see the least amount of Facebook engagement overall.

Sprout Facebook

Excellent data from Sprout and you can view the full report ‘here’ for more on their opinion and analysis.

£1.5m Order Lost – Growth Mindset

An SME Manufacturer £8m turnover, LOST an order worth £1.5 Million to a competitor that didn’t even manufacture, just outsourced. Due to their continuous learning, performance and mindset of not concentrating on what to shrink, but rather concentrating on what to grow they had no issues in recovering the situation. Now there may be a million and one reasons why they lost that order, but their growth mindset, drive to be the best and ability to react as team in the face of that situation is what counts. Their thirst to continually be better.

No matter how well you do what you do, someday somebody is going to come along and try to do it better. That’s the nature of competition.

growth mindset

I’ve spoken to so many businesses over the past few months where complacency seems to be present, we’re doing alright, we’re making money, why do we need to improve. FOR EXACTLY THAT REASON ABOVE. You cannot predict the future, but you can ensure you are giving yourself, your team, and business the best opportunity to react to the positive and negatives that come along. It’s been fantastic to support, work with and see the transformation of the team and business above, remember…

Strive to be better today than your were yesterday, plan to be better tomorrow than you are today.

#UKManufacturing #GrowthMindset #Improve #Leadership #manufacturing

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Funding for Manufacturers

Are you a Manufacturer?

Are you looking to make an improvement, solve a problem?

Would some funding help ease the costs?

The image illustrates all interventions covered by the EDRF Funding up to September 2021. The funding covers areas including West Midlands, Yorkshire and Humber, parts of the East Midlands, South East and East of England.

(Case Study – SME Manufacturer Leverages Funding & Increases Output)

Interventions in Scope

With up to 35% grant funding our Improvement Programme is designed to stimulate the growth of aspiring manufacturing businesses, in any sector, helping them to identify opportunities for growth, solving current problems, driving continuous improvement and increasing competitive performance.

To qualify you have to be a Manufacturer with Fewer than 250 employees and a turnover less than or equal to €50 million OR a balance sheet total less than or equal to €43 million.

Just enter your name, email address and the description of the intervention you are interested in and we’ll be in touch, it’s as easy as that.

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Get your Changeovers out of the Slow Lane

Benefits of SMED  (Single minute exchange of dies)

  • WIP and lot size reduction.
  • Finished goods inventory reduction.
  • Improved machine/resource utilisation.

Whether you are high volume or low volume business, changeovers is one of those things that can sap the living life out of your manufacturing process.

An unstructured/wasteful approach to changeovers (SMED, set-up, etc) has the uncanny ability to grow arms and legs, and those arms and legs can even grow arms and legs.

I first witnessed a set up reduction back in the early 90’s as a Kaizen Engineer manufacturing Aerospace Fasteners, we were being trained by a Japanese sensei in Lean Manufacturing, running three events on different machines; a centreless grinder; a header machine and thread roller.

Our team had the header machine, we videoed the actual set up so we could observe the waste within the process, much to our surprise there was 8 hours of it????? A WHOLE SHIFT WORTH OF CHANGEOVER for a production run that would probably last no more than 30/60mins depending on batch size, and batch size we were talking thousands. It was running three shifts.

Now bearing in mind, a major customer had flagged this as an high risk to their operation due to capacity and were forcing discussions on us purchasing another machine?????

At the start of the week, we we’re thinking a 50% reduction would be excellent, never in a million years did we think we’d get to sub 30mins, but we did!

Long Changeovers drive so much waste within your business, WIP, Overproduction, delays, waiting, transportation… they need to be focussed on.

The main benefits are as shown

Key Principle of SMED


Internal set up activities can only be performed when the process is stopped and must be kept to the absolute minimum in number and time taken to complete. Internal set-up activities should be limited to the actual fitting or removing of the Tool or Die or Material ONLY.


External set up activity can be performed with the process running and therefor does not affect the core changeover time.

As many changeover activities as possible should be external, leaving as few as possible as internal activities.

The statement that always sticks in my mind from my early SMED activities is ELIMINATE, COMBINE, SIMPLIFY.

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The Productivity Puzzle and Lean

I’ve never been one to shout about Lean, Six Sigma or Theory of Constraints, to individuals to solve a solution. I personally have though, applied the tools and techniques to resolve a situation or gain an opportunity I have faced. Granted, it’s not just about the application of tools and techniques, it’s equally important to focus on People, Culture and Managing Change within today’s organisations and society. Every single person has touched or been a part of a Lean process, within our everyday life from grocery shopping to our work we will have been in contact with lean in motion.

The interesting thing I have noticed recently are the articles beginning to appear regarding “is Lean at a crossroads?” and “How Lean is perceived today” particularly in the UK (but perhaps globally). An article by Morpheus Group stated “Businesses are taking a much more pragmatic approach, using a blend of tools….with very few businesses labeling their Corporate Programmes as Lean”.

It does seem that Lean and other Japanese terms associated with it are perceived a risk to alienating the workforce. I wonder why? Are we that uncomfortable with something that is not invented by us?? Are we hiding behind the terms as an excuse not to change??? (There is no doubting it is hard to implement and sustain, but that should never be an excuse). When I personally think about these questions it’s never been about the wording (don’t get me wrong I do cringe with some of them) but it’s about the application, execution/implementation that is key and the right behaviours that drive it so that we can benefit from it.

Businesses are placing a lot of importance on Strategic Cost Saving and Quality. This is absolutely fundamental in “Change” for any business. Strategy and Performance Management, Policy Deployment, Hoshin Kanri, whatever you choose to call it, is the back bone of your business, it is how you do business.

I believe Business Improvement is more important today than it ever has been with the globalisation of markets. What is it that gives us the competitive edge? In particular UK Productivity remains below pre-recession levels. I have been in discussion groups where an estimated 40% of productivity is lost through non value added activities, an estimated £3 Billion cost. Something Lean, Six Sigma, TOC can certainly impact.

This debate will carry on and involves so much from skills, impact on society, etc., etc.

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