DILO (Day In the Life Of)

Improve Work Effectiveness by Analyzing Daily Activity

DILO (Day In the Life Of) - Improve Work Effectiveness by Analyzing Daily Activity

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Discover how your team is using its time each day.

If you're concerned about how effectively your team or your entire organization uses its time – and who isn't? – using a DILO analysis to track and note down what's actually done, by whom, and for how long is a simple and straightforward way of getting some answers.

With it, you can ask the following questions:

  • Do people spend the majority of their day purposefully?
  • Are their energies focused on goal-oriented tasks, or on the most enjoyable or easiest tasks?
  • Are people working at the right level of detail?
  • Are they delegating work effectively?
  • Are people's workloads in line with expectations?
  • Are the majority of people's activities planned or spontaneous?

When you've carried out a DILO analysis, you'll have a better understanding of the time-related issues and challenges that your team face, and be better able to help people to use their working day productively.

What Is DILO?

The "Day in the Life of" technique first appeared in the 1994 article by Francis Gouillart and Frederick D. Sturdivant, "Spending a Day in the Life of Your Customers," which focused on third-party market research scenarios in the manufacturing sector. But, by focusing on your own team's activities, you can create a powerful observational tool that taps into members' daily experiences and produces a realistic overview of their working days.

With DILO, you can identify people's tasks and analyze the roles that they play as part of their everyday work. You can see the daily operational issues and challenges clearly, and you can uncover ways to deal with them. Once you have a clear picture of how time is used, you no longer need to make assumptions about what's happening, with the possible resource allocation mistakes that go with this.

You can see how long people spend on tasks that add value (for which people will pay), and how much time goes on those that don't. And instead of wasting time on assumed problems, you can work on resolving genuine ones.

See, for example, the extract from an airport worker's DILO in figure 1, below. The ratings scale goes from one (low) to five (high) to show effective use of time.

Figure 1.

Time Duration Core Activity Activity Category Eff. Rating (1-5)
06:00 5 min Signing in and registering for the job. Admin 3
06:05 10 min Walking from team room to Gate 27. Transit time 5
06:15 10 min Calling the flight; setting up the boarding of the flight on the system; checking in with Movement Control. Flight setup 4
06:25 5 min Discussing specifics of the boarding with airline rep and dispatches rep. Flight setup 4
06:30 15 min Processing passengers - checking boarding passes, passports, visas; dealing with excess baggage. Passengers into gate area 2
06:45 10 min Holding remaining passengers at gate as dispatch waits for confirmation of reported problems with loaded baggage. Gate problems 3
06:55 10 min Processing all remaining passengers into gate area. Passengers into gate area 2
07:05 1 hour 15 mins Organizing and managing full baggage ID on apron for the 209 passengers. Baggage ID 4

The real power of DILO is that it opens up a dialogue about what should be done and who it should be done by. Some of the results will be surprising: what you think people spend their time on and what they actually do are often two different things!

Using DILO Analysis

Follow these seven steps:

Step 1: Determine Your Scope

The scope of your analysis is determined by your overall objectives; the processes, activities and functions that you need to analyze; and the people who need to take part.

Do you want to improve a specific process? Or reduce stress for a particular team? Or deploy new resources, perhaps? You'll get the best out of this technique if you start by clarifying the objectives of your analysis.

When you have clear objectives, you can determine which teams and individuals need to be involved in your analysis. Where practical, include different people who perform the same key activities, as you can learn a lot from the different ways that people carry out similar roles.

Also, consider the time frame of your DILO analysis. The name implies that you're examining daily tasks, but do you need to look at them over the period of one day, one week or one month? The longer you continue, the more accurate a picture you will get, but you need to balance this length of time with the effort it takes to gather data and analyze it.

Step 2: Communicate Your Purpose

Before starting your DILO analysis, it's essential that you explain to colleagues and team members how you'll use the information. Emphasize that you will use the data that you gather to improve how things work, rather than to assess their individual performance.

People may misreport or change how they work if they believe that they are being monitored or judged, so putting them at ease will help to improve the quality of the data.

Step 3: Identify Activity Categories and Core Activities

To aggregate the DILO analysis data, and to produce useable and reliable figures, you need to have a consistent set of categories for how people spend their time on different activities.

Core activities depend on the work that you are analyzing, but activity categories typically include:

  • Administration.
  • Routine tasks.
  • Interruptions.
  • Waiting time.
  • Project-related activity.
  • Meetings.
  • Coaching.
  • Interviewing.
  • Travelling.

Tip:

Don't have too many categories. If you do, people may get frustrated and misclassify activities, rather than read through a long list. Also, consider carefully whether you want a "miscellaneous" category – you may find that everything ends up classified under this heading.

Step 4: Prepare Your DILO Worksheet

Using your activity categories, prepare a DILO worksheet for the participants to fill out. Download and use our free template, or create your own customized worksheet.

Allow space on your worksheet to record:

  • A brief description of each activity — the time that the participant starts it, and how long he or she spends on it. If you've identified a set of core activities, ask people to use these where appropriate, and to describe any other activities that they perform.
  • The activity category that their work belongs to, using the categories that you identified in step 3.
  • A rating on a scale of one to five (one being low, five being high) of how effectively they felt they were able to use their time.

Leave space to collect detailed notes. Quotes, comments, data, and observations can all add to the overall picture of your reviewee's work.

Step 5: Collate Participants' Activity Analysis

You can give the DILO worksheet to your participants and ask them to fill it in, or another person can collect the data. Asking people to complete their own DILO is simpler, although having a separate person reviewing or recording data has two main advantages.

First, the process will not interfere with the reviewee's working day. Second, it's generally easier to be objective when you're reviewing someone else's work. An independent reviewer will more likely record the duration and nature of each task accurately.

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Tip:

You'll probably need to insist that the time recorded equals the total time available in the day. If you don't, you'll likely find too many "holes" in the time record.

Any independent reviewer should be sensitive to the feelings and needs of the person being reviewed, and avoid criticizing, commenting, helping, or interfering. He or she is there only to observe and record.

Ask people to record breaks and lunchtimes, appointments and meetings, and reading and thinking time, as well as their scheduled work.

Step 6: Analyze the DILO Worksheets

When the recording is complete, collect the worksheets and prepare your analysis.

Segregate the tasks that add value (call these VA) from those that don't (NVA). Tasks that add value are those that customers would pay for or that benefit your product or service, and which it would be sensible to continue. Tasks that don't add value are everything else.

Some tasks that don't add value, such as checking emails or filling out an expenses claim, may still be necessary and unavoidable (call these NVAU, where "U" is for "Unavoidable"). Others, such as long periods of time spent reading internet news sites, are likely avoidable (call these NVAA, where "A" is for "Avoidable"), and you may want to stop these altogether.

From the aggregate data, you can note opportunities for improvements, such as a need for more resources or staff at certain times of the day, and issues to be resolved, such as getting interrupted with non-urgent at busy times of the day.

Step 7: Share and Plan for Improvement

The whole point of a DILO analysis is to improve the effectiveness of the work environment. When your analysis is complete, share the information with participants and encourage discussion. You could:

  • Talk about opportunities and issues.
  • Share and discuss individual DILOs.
  • Allow people to talk about their experiences of the analysis.
  • Talk about which results were surprising.
  • Think about helping people to manage their time better, so that they can improve their work habits.
  • Begin making a plan for improvement.
  • Set a date for a follow-up DILO analysis to plot changes.

Used in this way, and depending on the aim you communicated to study participants, DILO can form the basis of ongoing performance improvement and effectiveness reviews.

Tip:

If you promised not to use DILOs to monitor individual performance, make sure that you keep your promise. Otherwise, you'll lose the trust of your team, and you'll have little credibility when you next use the technique.

Key Points

Day in the Life of (DILO) analysis is a great technique for understanding how effective your work activities are, and what people do as part of their everyday work.

By observing and analyzing what actually gets done over a set period of time, you can make solid plans to address issues and opportunities, and decide which resources should be allocated to which task, or even which tasks can be removed from a process.

The analysis will help you to find answers to questions such as, "Do people spend the majority of their day purposefully?" and remove the need to make assumptions about what team members are doing, and for how long.

Tracking actions minute by minute allows people to really see what they accomplish at work. Add to that the formal analysis, sharing of information, and debriefing, and DILO becomes a very effective tool for workplace improvement.

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