Idea 38 - Scientific management (50 Management ideas you really need to know)

Idea 38 - Scientific management

Is management and art or a science? The debate is not new, nor is it over. In recent times, the 'art' lobby has been making up some lost ground, but it was 19th-century engineer Frederick Winslow Taylor who first cast management as a science. Peter Drucker, the management guru's management guru, says Taylor deserves a place alongside Darwin and Freud in the making of the modern world.
Taylor believed that production was subject to universal laws that were independent of human judgment. It was the task of scientific management to uncover these laws, to discover the 'one best way' of doing things. It might be the best way of shoveling coal, of securing a bolt or of ensuring quality control. Taylor is largely forgotten outside business schools these days. When his memory surfaces, it's often for the worst of reasons. He was the first to break work down into small pieces, measure them and put them back together so they operated more efficiently. He was keen to eliminate wasted effort and invented the time and motion study. In short, he was the world's first efficiency expert, and is sometimes caricatured as the creator of all that is worst about factory life. For some - trades unionists and Marxists are prime examples - 'Taylorism' is still a dirty word that stands for an exploitative, worker-as-automaton management style. In fact, Taylor believed his methods would benefit workers too (and, to his credit, he did invent the smoke break and the suggestions box).

It's striking how many theories of management are generated these days by people who have never done a day's 'work' - making or selling stuff -' in their lives. Modern management thinking is dominated by academics and consultants rather than managers. But Taylor hatched his theories where he meant them to apply, down on the factory floor.

Born into a well-to-do Quaker family in Pennsylvania, bad eyesight forced Taylor to abandon hopes of an academic career, and he became an apprentice patternmaker at a local steelworks instead. He studied mechanical engineering at night and eventually became the company's chief engineer. Along the way he invented several devices, modified a number of processes to make them more efficient and published a paper that elevated metal-cutting into a science.

Many and varied finally, he turned his attention to the workers themselves. It's probably hard to appreciate the full extent of his influence without knowing what manufacturing was like before. In those days, work was mostly carried out by skilled craftsmen who, like Taylor, had served apprenticeships. Their techniques and work patterns were as many and varied as the men themselves. Manufacturing was carried out in thousands of small shops and was, by any standard, hopelessly inefficient. Managers, such as they were, had very little contact with workers, who were managed by foremen. There was no love lost between labor and management, who often regarded each other with hostility.
Taylor could see all this, and he determined to apply the methods of science to work, and the management of work, so as to improve productivity. One of the things he had observed in the steel industry was the way in which workers deliberately operated below their capacity. This was generally known as 'soldiering'. Taylor believed that soldiering and low productivity had various causes. Workers believed that if they worked harder, fewer of them would be needed and some would lose their jobs. The system paid the same regardless of how much each worker produced. Why work harder if you didn't have to? And the workers' 'rule-of-thumb' methods, approaching each task in their own individual way, resulted in much wasted effort.

Taylor began to experiment with ways of finding the optimum performance level for certain jobs, becoming the original man with stopwatch and clipboard. He would break a task down into its constituent elements, timing each of them to within fractions of a second, and working out the
Most productive routines - 'screw on this bolt in 16.4 seconds'. He called his experiments 'time studies'. Importantly, he also believed that wages should be based on performance.

Shoveling Taylor's best-known experiment looked at shoveling. He determined that the optimal weight for a worker to lift in a shovel- the weight that would keep him working longest without tiring - was 21 ½ lb. Materials like coal and iron ore have different densities, so the optimal shovel for each of them will be a different size. The workers were issued with optimal shovels and, as predicted, productivity shot up nearly fourfold. Pay went up accordingly - Taylor believed in paying more for greater output. But the number of shovellers was reduced from 500 to 140, so perhaps the workers were right to be suspicious.

Scientific method, he claimed, applied to 'the man at the head of the business' just as much as to the workman. 'In the past the man has been first; in the future the system must be first,' he wrote, with an Orwellian lack of irony. The four objectives of scientific management were these:
Ø  To replace rule-of-thumb work methods with scientifically devised methods;
Ø  To select, train and develop each worker, again scientifically, instead of leaving them to train themselves;
Ø  To develop a spirit of cooperation between workers and management, to
Ø  Make sure that the scientifically worked-out methods are being followed;
Ø  To divide work between managers and workers in almost equal shares, so that the managers plan the work scientifically and the workers perform the tasks.
Taylor laid down principles of organization, which became the forerunners of much subsequent organizational theory. They included clear delineation of authority; separation of planning from operations; incentive schemes for workers; and task specialization. Taylor's ideas were deployed in many factories, where they duly raised productivity. Unscrupulous managers used them to cut pay and, even in more sympathetic hands, they certainly increased the monotony of work. He transformed the way work was done, however, and important elements of scientific management survive to this day. Human resources and quality control are only two of the corporate departments that have their roots in what he did.

Reference: 50 Management Ideas You Really Need to Know

Book by Edward Russell-Walling

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