Scientific Management

Scientific management addresses issues concerning the management of work. Prominent contributors to scientific management were Frederick W. Taylor, Frank Gilbreth, Lillian Gilbreth, and Henry Gantt.

Frederick W. Taylor

Before the 1880s, there were almost no systematic efforts to find ways to properly manage workers. The practice of management before 1880 was based primarily on experience, intuition, and common sense. Frederick W. Taylor (1856-1915), a self-taught engineer who worked his way up from clerk to chief engineer at the Midvale Steel Company by the age of 28, tried to change that approach, espousing the view that managers should study work scientifically in order to identify the important elements of a task. His engineering background provided a model for establishing principles of management that would guide scientific analysis of work so as to improve task efficiency. Taylor’s principles can be summarized as follows:

– Determine important elements of a task. Taylor believed that managers should observe and analyze each task to uncover the most economical way to perform the job and then put that way into operation. To enable managers to study work scientifically, Taylor promoted the use of time studies. Time studies measure all task movements made by a worker and try to eliminate those that do not lead to increased productivity.

– Scientific selection of personnel. Taylor did not believe that any individual with proper training would necessarily be the most competent to perform a certain task. Taylor was a strong advocate of matching physical traits to the dimensions of the task to be performed. While recognizing that the application of scientific principles would increase efficiency in task production, Taylor felt that some individuals would be more suited to a task than others and that managers should seek out those with proper traits. For Taylor, the most important physical traits of a worker were production capability, muscle durability, and resistance to fatigue. Selection of workers based on personality was to be avoided.

– Financial incentives. While matching the correct worker with the task was essential to increasing worker efficiency, Taylor recognized that another element must be added to the equation. Workers had to be motivated. At the time, the most common basis of pay was the hourly rate. Taylor believed that motivation would be enhanced by a differential piece-rate system of financial incentives, where workers would be paid according to what they produced rather than the number of hours they worked.

– Functional foremanship. Responsibility should be divided between managers and workers. This principle specified that separate managers would plan, direct, and evaluate the work process; the individual worker was responsible for performing the actual task. Thus, a worker would take orders from the functional foreman depending on the stage of the work process.’

Under the Taylor system, the first three principles formed the core of the scientific management approach. The final principle was considered innovative in that it introduced the notion of relieving workers of the responsibility to plan, initiate, and evaluate their work. Instead they could focus more directly on the actual production process.’

The application of Taylor’s ideas in the steel industry led to greatly increased production and higher wages. However, many of Taylor’s methods were met with resistance as workers and unions feared that greater physical demands and increased layoffs would result from the implementation of the techniques. In addition, many owners and managers used the methods to increase their own profits and earnings, thus depriving workers of the benefits of increased production.

Indeed, these were the outcomes when Taylor’s methods were implemented in a firm that manufactured ball bearings. By 1912, with strikes occurring at the Watertown Arsenal in Massachusetts and opposition from labor unions solidified, congressional hearings were held on Taylor’s methods to assess their potential for exploitation of workers. Taylor argued before Congress that his methods would work only if labor and management shared equally in the rewards of increased productivity:

Taylor’s ideas for improving productivity and efficiency in the workplace had a long-lasting impact on American industry. Manufacturers turned increasingly to mass-production methods to which Taylor’s methods were highly suited. Though strong evidence exists that Taylor may have falsified some of his findings to support the merits of his methods, the methods did lead to increased productivity and efficiency in many plants.’

While many of Taylor’s techniques, such as time studies and piece-rate work, are commonly used in industry today, the philosophy of scientific management was not accepted in its entirety in the United States. Of interest is the fact that through the work of the International Management Institute (1926-1935) many European societies found Taylor’s philosophy more suitable to their culture and incorporated many of Taylor’s ideas in industry. Even Lenin, at the time he was Premier of the Soviet Union, advocated the adoption of scientific management principles to Soviet industry.’

Henry L. Gantt

Henry L. Gantt (1861-1919) had worked with Taylor in implementing his methods at Midvale, Simonds, and Bethlehem Steel. Believing that the piece-rate system developed by Taylor was not having the desired level of impact, Gantt focused his attention on techniques that would further motivate workers. One of his innovations, a modification of the piece-rate system, was a task-and-bonus wage system whereby production goals were established for the worker. If the worker achieved the goal, a bonus in addition to the day wage was provided. A worker who fell short of the goal would still receive the day wage. In addition, if the worker achieved the goal, the foreman or immediate supervisor would also receive a bonus. The assumption was that a foreman who stood to gain from a worker’s efficiency would put more emphasis on training the worker to do the job.

Another of Gantt’s contributions was his development of the Gantt chart, a technique to show on a graph the scheduling of work to be done and itemization of the work that has been completed. For example, a chart might show which machines will be used, or have been used, for various tasks over time. Although it is a simple idea, the Gantt chart was a major development in production control. The chart is used extensively today in many manufacturing firms.

Like Taylor, Gantt believed that production efficiency was the most important concern of a manager. However, Gantt had greater concern for the psychological well-being of the worker in relation to the production process. Gantt’s development of the task-and-bonus system was spawned by his belief that a generous bonus system would lead to more-satisfied employees and therefore better output.

The Gilbreths

Lillian Gilbreth (1878-1972) and Frank Gilbreth (1868-1924), a wife and husband team, were early backers of Taylor’s scientific management philosophy. With Lillian’s knowledge of management and psychology, and Frank’s understanding of the intricacies of work, a unique and effective team was formed. Whereas Taylor often tried to find ways to have a task done faster by speeding up the worker, the Gilbreths tried to increase speed by eliminating motions that were discovered to be unnecessary. For instance, Frank’s early Work experience as an apprentice bricklayer focused his attention on the process of laying brick. Using photo stills of bricklayers at work, the Gilbreths discovered that the number of motions a bricklayer made to lay a brick could be reduced from 181/2 to 4, increasing the number of bricks laid during a workday from 1,000 to 2,700 without speeding up the worker.16 Their success in this study led them to focus on tasks performed by workers in the manufacturing industries.

The Gilbreths did not limit their research to the discovery of the one best way of performing a task as Taylor did. Reducing the number of motions a worker made in performing a task was, of course, a way to increase output, but of equal interest to the Gilbreths was the reduction in worker fatigue that it would accomplish. Putting their focus on the psychology of management, which had been the topic of Lillian’s doctoral thesis,’ the Gilbreths devised methods for training and developing workers to rotate tasks under the assumption that variety in the workplace would boost morale.

The Gilbreths did not confine their ideas solely to the workplace. As documented in a book written by two of their 12 children titled Cheaper by the Dozen (later a popular movie), Frank and Lillian applied many of their ideas to ordinary daily activities. The children report that their father buttoned his vest from the bottom to the top, instead of top to bottom, because he could save four seconds. By shaving with two razors at the same time, he could reduce shaving time by 44 seconds, but he abandoned this technique because it took two minutes per bandage to treat the cuts. The children insist that it was the two minutes lost and not the cuts that bothered him the most.’