Scientific Management (Taylorism)

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Improving labor productivity by scientifically analyzing and establishing optimal workflow processes. Explanation of Scientific Management of Frederick Winslow Taylor. (1911)



Frederick Winslow Taylor - Father of Scientific ManagementWhat is Scientific Management? Description

The Scientific Management approach was devised by Frederick Winslow Taylor at the end of the 19th century to improve labor productivity by analyzing and establishing workflow processes. Taylor thought that by analyzing work in a scientific manner, the "One Best Way" to perform a task could be found.

Taylor had pragmatic and even good motives to free up the good worker (Schmidt) of one half of his work, who was carrying pig iron at Bethlehem Steel. And at the same time he wanted to alleviate poverty and eliminate waste of time, energy and human ability. But his methods were very hard and sometimes had the opposite effect when they fell into the hands of ruthless exploiters of workers. This is why Scientific Management is often referred to disparagingly as Taylorism.

Frederick Winslow Taylor - Father of Scientific Management. Biography

Frederick Winslow Taylor is born in 1856 to a wealthy Quaker family in Philadelphia. In 1874 he becomes an apprentice patternmaker and machinist at Enterprise Hydraulics Works, gaining shop-floor expertise. In 1878 he takes up an unskilled job at Midvale Steel Works where he does his first experiments. In 1881 he gains a master degree in mechanical engineering. In 1890 he is appointed to general manager of Manufacturing Investment Company (MIC). It is important to understand that the circumstances during the life of Taylor were quite different from those today: there had been a series of depressions and production methods at the time were very inefficient. Also there was a need to employ many immigrants into the US, to raise the living standards and to meet rising demands for goods of every sort. All of this influences Taylor when he publishes The Principles of Scientific Management in 1911. Taylor dies in 1915.

Usage of Scientific Management. Applications

Steps in Scientific Management. Process

Taylor's scientific management consisted of four principles:

  1. Replace rule of thumb work methods with methods based on a scientific study of the tasks.
  2. Select, train, teach and develop the most suitable person for each job, again scientifically, rather than passively leaving them to train themselves.
  3. Managers must provide detailed instructions and supervision to each worker to ensure the job is done in a scientific way.
  4. Divide work between managers and workers. The managers apply scientific management principles to planning and supervising the work, and the workers carry out the tasks.

Scientific Management (Taylorism) - Worker at the Midvale Steel Company, circa 1910Strengths of Scientific Management. Benefits

  • One of the first formal divisions between workers and managers.
  • Contribution to efficient production methods, leading to a major global increase of living standards.
  • Focus on the individual task and worker level. Compare: Business Process Reengineering (process level)
  • Direct reward mechanisms for workers rather than pointless end-of-year profit sharing schemes.
  • Systematic. Early proponent of quality standards.
  • Suggestion schemes for workers, who should be rewarded by cash premiums.
  • Emphasis on measuring. Measurement enables improvement.
  • Pragmatic and useful in times and circumstances as described above (See: Biography).

Limitations of Scientific Management. Disadvantages

  • Taylorism can easily be abused to exploit human beings. Conflicts with labor unions.
  • Not useful to deal with groups or teams.
  • Leaves no room for individual preferences or initiative.
  • Overemphasis on measuring. No attention for soft factors.
  • Mechanistic. Treating people as machines.
  • Separation of planning function and doing.
  • Loss of skill level and autonomy at worker level. Not very useful in current knowledge worker environments (except as an antithesis).

Book: Taylor, Frederick Winslow - The Principles of Scientific Management, 1911 -

Book: Spender, J.C. and Kijne, H. (Eds) - Scientific Management: Fredrick Winslow Taylor's Gift to the World? 1996 -

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Compare with Scientific Management: Management by Objectives  |  Operations Research  |  Balanced Scorecard  |  CSFs and KPIs  |  Just-in-time  |  Lean Manufacturing  |  Six Sigma  |  Total Quality Management  |  Business Process Reengineering  |  14 Principles of Management

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