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Time and motion study at Macy's

Laurel Graham. Lilian Gilbreth and the mental revolution at Macy's, 1925-1928. Journal of Management History, vol. 6 no. 7, 2000, pp.285-305

p.293, Lies's individual project in the motion study course was to improve efficiency in the centralised cashiering 'tube room' located on the balcony overlooking the sales floor, where cashiers made change and used pneumatic tubes to move cash and messages to there from the sales floor (Barmash, 1989, p.29). Many afternoons of this first course were spent on 'field trips' at Macy's examining how motion study could improve the job of cashiering.

p.294, The pre-existing training for Macy's cashiers was minimal and imprecise. The training manual listed nine steps for handling the change carriers but almost never indicated which hand should execute a motion, a point which Gilbreth considered of fundamental importance. The manual listed speed and accuracy as the crucial skills of successful cashiers, who were rewarded with bonuses when they produced a high volume error-free work.

The average cashier handled around 600 transactions per day.

p.295, One illustration of the improvement made in the work was the change in the dispatch tube. This tube into which the Cashier puts her finished carrier was located shortly back of the desk so that the Cashier had to twist partly around to reach the tube. Also, the tube was so nearly the size of the carrier that she had to position the carrier over it carefully in order to insert it in the tube. In the new layout, a hopper-mouthed dispatch tube was installed at one side of the center of the desk. Now the Cashier throws the carrier into the hopper with one hand while she picks up the next carrier with the other.
(Quotation from E. Lees (1928) Research as applied to retailing - paper presented to the Eastern Commercial Teachers Association, 28 Mar, pp 18-19)

Through a simple tabulation of cashiering transactions adjusted for cashiering errors, Lies and Gilbreth ascertained that they had raised average individual production by 25 percent with less fatigue.


Lilian Gilbreth was the mother of twelve children and made famous in the film "Cheaper by the Dozen".



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