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Principles of Scientific Management

  • describe and bread down the task to its smallest unit; science for each element of work
  • restrict behavioral alternatives facing worker-remove worker discretion in planning, organizing, controlling
  • use time and motion studies to find one best way to do work
  • provide incentives to perform job one best way-tie pay to performance
  • use experts (industrial engineers) to establish various conditions of work

Historical Background of Organizational Behavior, prepared by Professor Edward G. Wertheim, College of Business Administration, Northeastern University, Boston, MA

Scientific Management

The Industrial Revolution that started with the development of steam power and the creation of large factories in the late Eighteenth Century lead to great changes in the production of textiles and other products. The factories that evolved, created tremendous challenges to organization and management that had not been confronted before. Managing these new factories and later new entities like railroads with the requirement of managing large flows of material, people, and information over large distances created the need for some methods for dealing with the new management issues.

The most important of those who began to create a science of management was Frederic Winslow Taylor, (1856-1915). Taylor was one of the first to attempt to systematically analyze human behavior at work. His model was the machine with its cheap, interchangeable parts, each of which does one specific function. Taylor attempted to do to complex organizations what engineers had done to machines and this involved making individuals into the equivalent of machine parts. Just as machine parts were easily interchangeable, cheap, and passive, so too should the human parts be the same in the Machine model of organizations.

This involved breaking down each task to its smallest unit and to figure out the one best way to do each job. Then the engineer, after analyzing the job should teach it to the worker and make sure the worker does only those motions essential to the task.. Taylor attempted to make a science for each element of work and restrict behavioral alternatives facing worker. Taylor looked at interaction of human characteristics, social environment, task, and physical environment, capacity, speed, durability, and cost. The overall goal was to remove human variability.

The results were profound. Productivity under Taylorism went up dramatically. New departments arose such as industrial engineering, personnel, and quality control. There was also growth in middle management as there evolved a separation of planning from operations. Rational rules replaced trial and error; management became formalized and efficiency increased. Of course, this did not come about without resistance. First the old line managers resisted the notion that management was a science to be studied not something one was born with (or inherited). Then of course, many workers resisted what some considered the "dehumanization of work." To be fair, Taylor also studied issues such as fatigue and safety and urged management to study the relationship between work breaks, and the length of the work day and productivity and convinced many companies that the careful introduction of breaks and a shorter day could increase productivity. Nevertheless, the industrial engineer with his stop watch and clip-board, standing over you measuring each little part of the job and one's movements became a hated figure and lead to much sabotage and group resistance.

The core elements of scientific management remain popular today. While a picture of a factory around 1900 might look like something out of Dickens, one should not think the core concepts of scientific management have been abandoned. They haven't. They have merely been modified and updated.

Historical Background of Organizational Behavior, prepared by Professor Edward G. Wertheim, College of Business Administration, Northeastern University, Boston, MA

Frederick Winslow Taylor: Scientific Management, Who Made America?, PBS.

We can see and feel the waste of material things. Awkward, inefficient, or ill-directed movements of men, however, leave nothing visible or tangible behind them. Their appreciation calls for an act of memory, an effort of the imagination. And for this reason, even though our daily loss from this source is greater than from our waste of material things, the one has stirred us deeply, while the other has moved us but little. . .

What we are all looking for, however, is the readymade, competent man; the man whom some one else has trained. It is only when we fully realize that our duty, as well as our opportunity, lies in systematically cooperating to train and to make this competent man, instead of in hunting for a man whom some one else has trained, that we shall be on the road to national efficiency.

Introduction, Shop Management, The Principles of Scientific Management and Testimony Before the Special House Committee, by Frederick Winslow Taylor, Harper & Row, 191. Source: Encyclopedia of Marxism

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