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Scientific management

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Scientific management

Frederick Taylor (1856-1915), leading proponent of scientific management

Scientific management, also called Taylorism,[1] is a theory of management that analyzes and synthesizes workflows. Its main objective is improving economic efficiency, especially labor productivity. It was one of the earliest attempts to apply science to the engineering of processes and to management.

Its development began with Frederick Winslow Taylor in the 1880s and 1890s within the manufacturing industries. Its peak of influence came in the 1910s;[2] by the 1920s, it was still influential but had entered into competition and syncretism with opposing or complementary ideas.

Although scientific management as a distinct theory or school of thought was obsolete by the 1930s, most of its themes are still important parts of industrial engineering and management today. These include analysis; synthesis; logic; rationality; empiricism; work ethic; efficiency and elimination of waste; standardization of best practices; disdain for tradition preserved merely for its own sake or to protect the social status of particular workers with particular skill sets; the transformation of craft production into mass production; and knowledge transfer between workers and from workers into tools, processes, and documentation.


  • Pursuit of economic efficiency 1
  • Soldiering 2
  • Relationship to mechanization and automation 3
  • Effects on labor relations in market economies 4
    • Taylor's view of workers 4.1
    • Taylor's implementations of scientific management 4.2
    • Early decades: making jobs unpleasant 4.3
    • Later decades: making jobs disappear 4.4
  • Effects on disruptive innovation 5
  • Relationship to Fordism 6
  • Influence on planned economies 7
    • Soviet Union 7.1
    • East Germany 7.2
  • Legacy 8
  • See also 9
  • Notes 10
  • References 11
  • Further reading 12
  • External links 13

Pursuit of economic efficiency

While the terms "scientific management" and "Taylorism" are commonly treated as synonymous, the work of Frederick Taylor marks only the first form of scientific management, followed by other approaches; thus in today's management theory, Taylorism is sometimes called, or considered a subset of, the classical perspective on scientific management. Taylor's own names for his approach initially included "shop management" and "process management". When Louis Brandeis popularized the term "scientific management" in 1910,[3] Taylor recognized it as another good name for the concept, and adopted it in his 1911 monograph.

Taylor rejected the notion, which was universal in his day and still held today, that the trades, including manufacturing, were resistant to analysis and could only be performed by craft production methods. In the course of his empirical studies, Taylor examined various kinds of manual labor. For example, most bulk materials handling was manual at the time; material handling equipment as we know it today was mostly not developed yet. He looked at shoveling in the unloading of railroad cars full of ore; lifting and carrying in the moving of iron pigs at steel mills; the manual inspection of bearing balls; and others. He discovered many concepts that were not widely accepted at the time. For example, by observing workers, he decided that labor should include rest breaks so that the worker has time to recover from fatigue, either physical (as in shoveling or lifting) or mental (as in the ball inspection case). Workers were allowed to take more rests during work, and productivity increased as a result.[4]

Subsequent forms of scientific management were articulated by Taylor's disciples, such as Henry Gantt; other engineers and managers, such as Benjamin S. Graham; and other theorists, such as Max Weber. Taylor's work also contrasts with other efforts, including those of Henri Fayol and those of Frank Gilbreth, Sr. and Lillian Moller Gilbreth (whose views originally shared much with Taylor's but later diverged in response to Taylorism's inadequate handling of human relations). Taylorism, in its strict sense, became obsolete by the 1930s, and by the 1960s the term "scientific management" was no longer favored in contemporaneous management theory. However, called by other names, many aspects of scientific management have persisted in later management theories. In blending art, academic science, and applied science, modern management practice includes Taylorism as one of its ancestors. The process of improving on Taylorism's view of human resources began as soon as Taylor's works had been published (as evidenced by, for example, James Hartness's motivation to publish his Human Factor in 1912,[5] or the Gilbreths' work), and each subsequent decade brought further evolution.

Flourishing in the late 19th and early 20th century, scientific management built on earlier pursuits of economic efficiency. While it was prefigured in the folk wisdom of thrift, it favored empirical methods to determine efficient procedures rather than perpetuating established traditions. Thus it was followed by a profusion of successors in applied science, including time and motion study, the Efficiency Movement (which was a broader cultural echo of scientific management's impact on business managers specifically), Fordism, operations management, operations research, industrial engineering, manufacturing engineering, logistics, business process management, business process reengineering, lean manufacturing, and Six Sigma. There is a fluid continuum linking scientific management with the later fields, and the different approaches often display a high degree of compatibility.

In management literature today, the term "scientific management" mostly refers to the work of Taylor and his disciples ("classical", implying "no longer current, but still respected for its seminal value") in contrast to newer, improved iterations of efficiency-seeking methods. In political and sociological terms, Taylorism can be seen as the division of labor pushed to its logical extreme, with a consequent de-skilling of the worker and dehumanisation of the workers and the workplace. Taylorism is often mentioned along with Fordism, because it was closely associated with mass production methods in factories, which was its earliest application. Today, task-oriented optimization of work tasks is nearly ubiquitous in industry.


Scientific management requires a high level of managerial control over employee work practices and entails a higher ratio of managerial workers to laborers than previous management methods. Such detail-oriented management may cause friction between workers and managers.

Taylor observed that some workers were more talented than others, and that even smart ones were often unmotivated. He observed that most workers who are forced to perform repetitive tasks tend to work at the slowest rate that goes unpunished. This slow rate of work has been observed in many industries and many countries[6] and has been called by various terms, including "soldiering",[6][7] a term that reflects the way conscripts may approach following orders. Other names, some of which are confined to certain regions and eras, include "dogging it",[8] "goldbricking",[9] "hanging it out",[6] and "ca canae".[6] Managers may call it by those names or "loafing"[10] or "malingering"; workers may call it "getting through the day" or "preventing management from abusing us". Taylor used the term "soldiering" and observed that, when paid the same amount, workers will tend to do the amount of work that the slowest among them does.[11]

This reflects the idea that workers have a vested interest in their own well-being, and do not benefit from working above the defined rate of work when it will not increase their remuneration. He therefore proposed that the work practice that had been developed in most work environments was crafted, intentionally or unintentionally, to be very inefficient in its execution. He posited that time and motion studies combined with rational analysis and synthesis could uncover one best method for performing any particular task, and that prevailing methods were seldom equal to these best methods. Crucially, Taylor himself prominently acknowledged that if each employee's compensation was linked to their output, their productivity would go up.[11] Thus his compensation plans usually included piece rates. In contrast, some later adopters of time and motion studies ignored this aspect and tried to get large productivity gains while passing little or no compensation gains to the workforce, which contributed to resentment against the system.

A machinist at the Tabor Company, a firm where Frederick Taylor's consultancy was applied to practice, about 1905

Relationship to mechanization and automation

Scientific management evolved in an era when mechanization and automation were still in their infancy. The ideas and methods of scientific management extended the American system of manufacturing in the transformation from craft work (with humans as the only possible agents) to mechanization and automation, although proponents of scientific management did not predict the extensive removal of humans from the production process. Concerns over labor-displacing technologies rose with increasing mechanization and automation.

By factoring processes into discrete, unambiguous units, scientific management laid the groundwork for automation and offshoring, prefiguring industrial process control and numerical control in the absence of any machines that could carry it out. Taylor and his followers did not foresee this at the time; in their world, it was humans that would execute the optimized processes. (For example, although in their era the instruction "open valve A whenever pressure gauge B reads over value X" would be carried out by a human, the fact that it had been reduced to an algorithmic component paved the way for a machine to be the agent.) However, one of the common threads between their world and ours is that the agents of execution need not be "smart" to execute their tasks. In the case of computers, they are not able (yet) to be "smart" (in that sense of the word); in the case of human workers under scientific management, they were often able but were not allowed. Once the time-and-motion men had completed their studies of a particular task, the workers had very little opportunity for further thinking, experimenting, or suggestion-making. They were forced to "play dumb" most of the time, which occasionally led to revolts.

The middle ground between the craft production of skilled workers and full automation is occupied by systems of extensive mechanization and partial automation operated by semiskilled and unskilled workers. Such systems depend on algorithmic workflows and knowledge transfer, which require substantial engineering to succeed. Although Taylor's intention for scientific management was simply to optimize work methods, the process engineering that he pioneered also tends to build the skill into the equipment and processes, removing most need for skill in the workers. Such engineering has governed most industrial engineering since then. It is also the essence of successful offshoring. The common theme in all these cases is that businesses engineer their way out of their need for large concentrations of skilled workers, and the high-wage environments that sustain them. This creates competitive advantage on the local level of individual firms, although the pressure it exerts systemically on employment and employability is an externality.

Effects on labor relations in market economies

Taylor's view of workers

Taylor often expressed views of workers that may be considered prejudiced or insulting.[4] While he recognized differences between workers, stressed the need to select the right person for the right job, and championed the workers by advocating frequent breaks and good pay,[11] he often failed to conceal his condescending attitude and would call less intelligent workers "stupid", comparing them to draft animals.[12]

Other thinkers soon offered less prejudiced ideas on the roles that workers play in mature industrial systems.

  • Special Collections: F.W. Taylor Collection. Stevens Institute of Technology has an extensive collection at its library.

External links

  • Aitken, Hugh G.J. (1985) [1960], Scientific Management in Action: Taylorism at Watertown Arsenal, 1908-1915, Princeton, NJ, USA: Princeton University Press,  
  • Gershon, Richard (2001), Telecommunications Management: Industry Structures and Planning Strategies, Mahwah, NJ, USA: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates,  
  • Morf, Martin (1983) Eight Scenarios for Work in the Future. in Futurist, v17 n3 pp. 24–29 Jun 1983, reprinted in Cornish, Edward and World Future Society (1985) Habitats tomorrow: homes and communities in an exciting new era : selections from The futurist, pp. 14–19
  • Scheiber, Lukas (2012), Next Taylorism: A Calculus of Knowledge Work, Frankfurt am Main, BRD: Peter Lang,  

Further reading

  • Woodham, Jonathan (1997), Twentieth-Century Design, New York, NY, USA and London, UK: Oxford University Press,  
  • Beissinger, Mark R. (1988), Scientific Management, Socialist Discipline, and Soviet Power, London, UK: I.B. Tauris & Co Ltd,  
  • Dawson, Michael (2005), The Consumer Trap: Big Business Marketing in American Life (paper ed.), Urbana, IL, USA: University of Illinois Press,  
  • Drury, Horace Bookwalter (1915), Scientific management: a history and criticism, New York, NY, USA: Columbia University. 
  • Head, Simon (2005), The New Ruthless Economy: Work and Power in the Digital Age, Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press,  
  • Kanigel, Robert (1997), The One Best Way: Frederick Winslow Taylor and the Enigma of Efficiency, New York, NY, USA: Penguin-Viking,  
  • Mitcham, Carl (2005), "Management", Encyclopedia of science, technology, and ethics 3, Macmillan Reference USA,  
  • Mullins, Laurie J. (2004), Management and Organisational Behaviour (7th ed.), Financial Times–FT Press–Prentice-Hall–Pearson Education Ltd,  
  • Rosen, Ellen (1993), Improving Public Sector Productivity: Concepts and Practice, Thousand Oaks, CA, USA: Sage Publications,  
  •  . Various republications, including ISBN 9780814332795.


  1. ^ Mitcham 2005, p. 1153 Mitcham, Carl and Adam, Briggle Management in Mitcham (2005) p. 1153, quote:
  2. ^ Woodham 1997, p. 12
  3. ^ Drury 1915, pp. 15–21.
  4. ^ a b Taylor 1911
  5. ^ a b Hartness 1912
  6. ^ a b c d Taylor 1911, pp. 13–14.
  7. ^, "soldier (intransitive verb)", sense 2
  8. ^, "dog (transitive verb)", below sense 2, related phrasal verb "dog it"
  9. ^, "goldbrick (verb)", intransitive sense
  10. ^ Taylor 1911, pp. 19, 23, 82, 95.
  11. ^ a b c Taylor 1911, pp. 13–29, 95.
  12. ^ Taylor 1911, p. 59 quote:
  13. ^ Braverman 1998.
  14. ^ a b Mullins 2004, p. 70.
  15. ^ Drury 1915, pp. 170–174
  16. ^ Noble 1984.
  17. ^ Rosen 1993, p. 139, quote:
  18. ^ Hounshell 1984, pp. 249–253.
  19. ^ a b Sorensen 1956, p. 41. quote:
  20. ^ Beissinger 1988, pp. 35–37.
  21. ^ Hughes 2004.
  22. ^ Hughes 2004, p. 251, quoting Stalin 1976 p. 115.
  23. ^ Sorensen 1956, pp. 193–216.
  24. ^ Dawson 2005.
  25. ^ Kanigel 1997
  26. ^ Head 2005.


See also

Practices descended from scientific management are currently used in offices and in medicine (e.g. managed care) as well.[26]

Modern human resources can be seen to have begun in the scientific management era, most notably in the writings of Katherine M. H. Blackford, who was also a proponent of eugenics.

Scientific management has had an important influence in sports, where stop watches and motion studies rule the day. (Taylor himself enjoyed sports, especially tennis and golf. He and a partner won a national championship in doubles tennis. He invented improved tennis racquets and improved golf clubs, although other players liked to tease him for his unorthodox designs, and they did not catch on as replacements for the mainstream implements).[25]

Today's militaries employ all of the major goals and tactics of scientific management, if not under that name. Of the key points, all but wage incentives for increased output are used by modern military organizations. Wage incentives rather appear in the form of skill bonuses for enlistments.

Peter Drucker saw Frederick Taylor as the creator of knowledge management, because the aim of scientific management was to produce knowledge about how to improve work processes. Although the typical application of scientific management was manufacturing, Taylor himself advocated scientific management for all sorts of work, including the management of universities and government. For example, Taylor believed scientific management could be extended to "the work of our salesmen". Shortly after his death, his acolyte Harlow S. Person began to lecture corporate audiences on the possibility of using Taylorism for "sales engineering"[24] (Person was talking about what is now called sales process engineering—engineering the processes that salespeople use—not about what we call sales engineering today.) This was a watershed insight in the history of corporate marketing.

Scientific management was one of the first attempts to systematically treat management and process improvement as a scientific problem. It may have been the first to do so in a "bottom-up" way and found a lineage of successors that have many elements in common. With the advancement of statistical methods, quality assurance and quality control began in the 1920s and 1930s. During the 1940s and 1950s, the body of knowledge for doing scientific management evolved into operations management, operations research, and management cybernetics. In the 1980s total quality management became widely popular, and in the 1990s "re-engineering" went from a simple word to a mystique. Today's Six Sigma and lean manufacturing could be seen as new kinds of scientific management, although their evolutionary distance from the original is so great that the comparison might be misleading. In particular, Shigeo Shingo, one of the originators of the Toyota Production System, believed that this system and Japanese management culture in general should be seen as a kind of scientific management.


By the 1950s, scientific management had grown dated, but its goals and practices remained attractive and were also being adopted by the German Democratic Republic as it sought to increase efficiency in its industrial sectors. In the accompanying photograph from the German Federal Archives, workers discuss standards specifying how each task should be done and how long it should take. The workers are engaged in a state-planned instance of process improvement, but they are pursuing the same goals that were contemporaneously pursued in capitalist societies, as in the Toyota Production System.

East German machine tool builders, 1953.

East Germany

Sorensen was one of the consultants who brought American know-how to the USSR during this era,[23] before the Cold War made such exchanges unthinkable. As the Soviet Union developed and grew in power, both sides, the Soviets and the Americans, chose to ignore or deny the contribution that American ideas and expertise had made: the Soviets because they wished to portray themselves as creators of their own destiny and not indebted to a rival, and the Americans because they did not wish to acknowledge their part in creating a powerful communist rival. Anti-communism had always enjoyed widespread popularity in America, and anti-capitalism in Russia, but after World War II, they precluded any admission by either side that technologies or ideas might be either freely shared or clandestinely stolen.

In the Vladimir Lenin and Leon Trotsky. Gastev continued to promote this system of labor management until his arrest and execution in 1939.[20] In the 1920s and 1930s, the Soviet Union enthusiastically embraced Fordism and Taylorism, importing American experts in both fields as well as American engineering firms to build parts of its new industrial infrastructure. The concepts of the Five Year Plan and the centrally planned economy can be traced directly to the influence of Taylorism on Soviet thinking. As scientific management was believed to epitomize American efficiency,[21] Joseph Stalin even claimed that "the combination of the Russian revolutionary sweep with American efficiency is the essence of Leninism."[22]

Soviet Union

Scientific management appealed to managers of planned economies because central economic planning relies on the idea that the expenses that go into economic production can be precisely predicted and can be optimized by design. The opposite theoretical pole would be laissez-faire thinking in which the invisible hand of free markets is the only possible "designer". In reality most economies today are somewhere in between.

Influence on planned economies

It is often assumed that Fordism derives from Taylor's work. Taylor apparently made this assumption himself when visiting the Ford Motor Company's Michigan plants not too long before he died, but it is likely that the methods at Ford were evolved independently, and that any influence from Taylor's work was indirect at best.[18] Charles E. Sorensen, a principal of the company during its first four decades, disclaimed any connection at all.[19] There was a belief at Ford, which remained dominant until Henry Ford II took over the company in 1945, that the world's experts were worthless, because if Ford had listened to them, it would have failed to attain its great successes. Henry Ford felt that he had succeeded in spite of, not because of, experts, who had tried to stop him in various ways (disagreeing about price points, production methods, car features, business financing, and other issues). Sorensen thus was dismissive of Taylor and lumped him into the category of useless experts.[19] Sorensen held the New England machine tool vendor Walter Flanders in high esteem and credits him for the efficient floorplan layout at Ford, claiming that Flanders knew nothing about Taylor. Flanders may have been exposed to the spirit of Taylorism elsewhere, and may have been influenced by it, but he did not cite it when developing his production technique. Regardless, the Ford team apparently did independently invent modern mass production techniques in the period of 1905-1915, and they themselves were not aware of any borrowing from Taylorism. Perhaps it is only possible with hindsight to see the zeitgeist that (indirectly) connected the budding Fordism to the rest of the efficiency movement during the decade of 1905-1915.

Relationship to Fordism

Most implementations of scientific management worked within the implicit context of a particular technological moment and did not envisage transcending that moment in a continuous improvement process. Embracing the notion of a "one best way", such implementations treated the immediate context as a long-term constant rather than a variable. Later methods such as lean manufacturing overcame this limitation by including continual innovation as part of their process and by recognizing the iterative nature of development.

Scientific management arose in an era of rapid technological change. The goal of increasing efficiency within an existing technological context by formalizing the details of a process always carries the risk of fossilizing one moment's technological state, thereby stifling disruptive innovation and preventing further technological progress. For example, John Parsons may not have been able to incubate the earliest development of numerical control if he were a worker in a red-tape-laden organization being told from above that the best way to mill a part had already been perfected, and therefore he had no business experimenting with his own preferred methods.

Effects on disruptive innovation

Successors to scientific management such as 'corporate reengineering' and 'business process reengineering' envisage as a distant goal the elimination of all unskilled, or even most skilled human labor, an aspiration that stems from scientific management's reduction of process to discrete units. As the resultant commodification of work advances, no skilled profession, not even medicine, is immune to the efforts of scientific management's successors, the 'reengineers' often derided as 'bean counters' and 'PHBs'.

In a central assumption of scientific management, "the worker was taken for granted as a cog in the machinery."[17] While scientific management had made jobs unpleasant, its successors made them less remunerative, less secure, and finally nonexistent as a consequence of structural unemployment.

Scientific management may have exacerbated grievances among workers about oppressive or greedy management. It certainly strengthened developments that put workers at a disadvantage: the erosion of employment in developed economies via both offshoring and automation. Both were made possible by the deskilling of jobs, which was made possible by the knowledge transfer that scientific management achieved. Knowledge was transferred both to cheaper workers and from workers into tools. Jobs that once would have required craft work first transformed to semiskilled work, then unskilled. At this point the labor had been commoditized, and thus the competition between workers (and worker populations) moved closer to pure than it had been, depressing wages and job security. Jobs could be offshored (giving one human's tasks to others—which could be good for the new worker population but was bad for the old) or they could be rendered nonexistent through automation (giving a human's tasks to machines). Either way, the net result from the perspective of developed-economy workers was that jobs started to pay less, then disappear. The power of labor unions in the mid-twentieth century only led to a push on the part of management to accelerate the process of automation,[16] hastening the onset of the later stages just described.

Later decades: making jobs disappear

Scientific management lowered worker morale and exacerbated existing conflicts between labor and management. As a consequence, the method inadvertently strengthened labor unions and their bargaining power in labor disputes,[15] thereby neutralizing most or all of the benefit of any productivity gains it had achieved. Thus its net benefit to owners and management ended up as small or negative. It took new efforts, borrowing some ideas from scientific management but mixing them with others, to produce more productive formulas.

[14] After an attitude survey of the workers revealed a high level of resentment and hostility towards scientific management, the Senate banned Taylor's methods at the arsenal.[14] Under scientific management, the demands of work intensified. Workers became dissatisfied with the work environment and became angry. During one of Taylor's own implementations at the

Early decades: making jobs unpleasant

Workers are necessarily human: they have personal needs and interpersonal friction, and they face very real difficulties introduced when jobs become so efficient that they have no time to relax, and so rigid that they have no permission to innovate.

Taylor himself recognized these challenges and sought to address them. Nevertheless, his own implementations of his system (e.g., Watertown Arsenal, Link-Belt corporation, Midvale, Bethlehem) were never really very successful. They made unsteady progress and eventually failed, usually after Taylor had left. The countless managers who later esteemed or imitated Taylor did even worse jobs of implementation. Typically, they were less analytical managers who had adopted scientific management as a fashionable way of cutting the unit cost of production, often without any deep understanding of Taylor's ideas. Taylor knew that scientific management could only last if the workers benefited from the profit increases it generated. Taylor had developed a method for generating the increases, for the dual purposes of owner/manager profit and worker profit, realizing that the methods relied on both of those results in order to work correctly. But many owners and managers seized upon the methods thinking (wrongly) that the profits could be reserved solely or mostly for themselves and the system could endure indefinitely merely through force of authority.

Implementations of scientific management often failed to account for inherent challenges such as the individuality of workers and the lack of shared economic interest between workers and management. As individuals are different from each other, the most efficient way of working for one person may be inefficient for another. As the economic interests of workers and management are rarely identical, both the measurement processes and the retraining required by Taylor's methods were frequently resented and sometimes sabotaged by the workforce.

Taylor's implementations of scientific management

has occurred since Taylor's day, although its implementation has been uneven, as lean management in capable hands has produced good results for both managers and workers, but in incompetent hands has damaged enterprises. syncretism Today's efficiency-seeking methods, such as lean manufacturing, include respect for workers and fulfillment of their needs as integral parts of the theory. (Workers slogging their way through workdays in the business world do encounter flawed implementations of these methods that make jobs unpleasant; but these implementations generally lack managerial competence in matching theory to execution.) Clearly a [13]

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