Takt time is a surprisingly simple metric to calculate, and understanding how it works means understanding why it is useful.

Takt time is best translated into English as “measure time.” Unlike the vast majority of terms that originated from the Toyota Production System (read: Lean), “takt” is not Japanese, but is in fact a word taken from German.

It is a calculation of unit production time relative to customer demand. This characteristic is what this essential metric is all about, but it is also the most misunderstood piece of the takt puzzle.

What You Need to Know

Takt time is not a recorded measurement of the duration of per-unit production.

It is instead a metric that identifies production flow and can be useful for determining production line parameters. Let’s take a look at how this metric can be used, and why it is important in the Lean decision maker’s tool kit.

1. Takt time isn’t just about the production line.

Takt time is an evaluation tool.

In the same ways that the Lean method applies to industries other than manufacturing, takt time is also a helpful calculation for admin or office duties as well. Consider repetitive tasks such as the processing of invoices.

A repetitive activity like invoice processing mirrors a production cycle: there is demand (the number of invoices to be processed) and there are units (the individual invoices). In an admin setting, takt time can be a useful evaluation tool to identify the peaks and troughs of productivity.

As a quick refresher, takt time (T) equals the total available time (Ta) divided by customer demand (D). Total available time, usually expressed in minutes, is the net time available for work, or the effective working day.

That means shift times less breaks and other non-producing time.

Remember: the number that this formula spits out is a cadence, or a rate of production, that does not reflect the actual time required to perform the specified task.

It is instead a goal or a target rate.

The formula for takt time is T = Ta divided by D. Takt time is a powerful metric that can inform a Lean operations.

2. Takt time can be used for resource planning.

As demand fluctuates through forecasted periods, a takt time can be calculated for anticipated demand (known demand is better than forecasted) to plan resource levels. This applies across the board for any production operation, as well as Lean admin operations.

Consider the following example:

A front line manager has a takt time of seven minutes per unit. That manager knows that demand will double in the next schedule period. She knows then, that enforcing that same seven-minute cadence on the same number of staff and machines is unrealistic.

Understanding the staffing required for a seven-minute takt time can help that same decision maker plan for periods of higher demand. In this way takt time can be used to level periods of fluctuating demand with hard data that corresponds to known rates of productivity.

3. Takt time can be used as a feedback measure to set the cadence of production.

This is the true purpose of takt time.

It is also why this metric should never be simply calculated, then left in the corner to collect dust. Takt time is a data expression of the cadence of production, also known as “flow.”

When a flow standard has been identified, spotting underperforming or bottlenecking stations is much easier for decision makers. Additionally, production on the whole can be gauged and measured in comparison to the calculated takt time.

Identifying areas of underperformance, or areas that produce waste and waste events, is the whole objective of Lean and of the kaizen culture. The takt time calculation can be a driver of those innovation efforts.

The Bottom Line

The bottom line is that takt time is a living, breathing metric. It is something that decision makers shouldn’t just calculate and then walk away from. This key number can serve a variety of functions. It is an identifier of the productivity of admin operations. In manufacturing operations, it is a meter of production line.

When it comes to understanding flow, the cadence of production, and productivity goal accomplishment, there is no better measurement than takt time.

This article is based on a portion of Chapter 2 of the best-selling Lean QuickStart Guide: The Simplified Beginner’s Guide to Lean now in its second edition. Published by ClydeBank Media, 2nd Ed. 2016. Benjamin Sweeney is the Senior Business Writer for ClydeBank Media.

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