Lean Manufacturing and Six Sigma Definitions

Glossary terms, history, people and definitions about Lean and Six Sigma

Hawthorne Effect

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When individuals modify an aspect of their behavior in response to their awareness of being observed, which can change the outcome or result of research or investigation, especially the cause-and-effect relationship between variables.

Popular methods of Lean and Six Sigma used for observing behaviors include design of experiments (DOE) and gemba (go and see) walks.

It was named after the original research conducted at Hawthorne Works in Cicero, Illinois. Changes to lighting and work structure (working hours and break times) corresponded with improvements in productivity, and therefore paying attention to overall worker needs is important.

However, later studies found that these effects did not last, or conflicted with earlier results, or continued to improve when reverted back to initial study conditions. It was later suggested that the act of being research subjects, and the increased attention from that activity could be a better explanation for the temporary increase in worker productivity.

Originally, this effect was found when changing light levels slightly for workers. Productivity increased, but went away when the study ended.

Other changes such as maintaining clean work stations, clearing floors of obstacles, and even relocating workstations resulted in increased productivity for short periods. Thus the term is used to identify any type of short-lived increase in productivity.

Other explanations for the Hawthorne effect include the impact of feedback and motivation towards the worker, as receiving feedback for the first time may improve their skills. Others suggest that people may be motivated to please the researched or observer.

Workers may also be suspicious of the purpose of the observer, and it may result in less productivity (not always an improvement), or going slower when it is assumed the observations will be used for establishing cycle times or expected completion times.

Finally, there may be some effect or influence (intentional or unintentional) on the observers themselves, to measure or calculate changes in productivity (or other metrics) that will support their changes or hypothesis.

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