Frederick Winslow Taylor (1856–1915) is known as the father of scientific management. He was born to the Quaker aristocracy of Pennsylvania, and initially he planned to go to Harvard and become a lawyer or an executive until he suffered an eye injury that prevented him from reading,1Kakar, Sudhir (1970). Frederick Taylor: a study in personality and innovation. Cambridge: University of Wisconsin Press. With Harvard no longer an option, Taylor went to work at a family friend’s factory, the Midvale Steel Company. Taylor took to the work and was promoted quickly from pattern maker to foreman and then to chief engineer. During this time, he witnessed many acts aimed at limiting or reducing production—including having his tools destroyed—and it was he who coined the term soldiering to describe this deliberate act.2Spencer Klaw, “Frederick Winslow Taylor: The Messiah of Time and Motion.” American Heritage, 1979, 30(5), 26-39. Rather than stand by and see such senseless acts affect the business he worked for, Taylor decided to take action. First, he went to Stevens Institute of Technology to gain a background in engineering. Then he took this knowledge and applied it to his work.
Taylor’s contribution was that he advanced a total system of management by uniting the ideas and philosophies of many others. While he may not have invented the scientific study of management, Taylor contributed to the use and synthesis of management by pioneering the use of time studies, division of labor based on function, cost-control systems, written instruction for workers, planning, and standardized equipment. Taylorism is still the basis of modern management, including the use of incentives. For example, Taylor stressed piecework production, meaning that workers were paid for how much they produced. Taylor also stressed the idea of differential piecework, meaning that if workers produced more than a certain amount, they would be paid more. Some compensation systems, such as sales commissions (being paid for how much you sell), have their bases in Taylor’s work.
Taylor’s major contribution was that he prized knowledge and science over tradition and rules of thumb. He broke down each act of production into its smallest parts and watched the best workers perform their jobs. Using a stopwatch to time the workers’ actions, Taylor determined the most effective and efficient way to accomplish a given task. After breaking down each job into its component parts, Taylor then reconstructed them as they should be done. Taylor also developed time management studies to break down a person’s workday into a series of activities. He then timed the execution of each activity to see which way was the quickest. He would rebuild the job using only the most efficient ways possible and then train workers to perform the task. And by allowing workers to have rest periods throughout the day, he was able to get workers to work faster and better without making them tired.3The Principles of Scientific Management. New York and London, Harper & brothers
Another one of Taylor’s significant contributions to the practice and profession of management was the concept of first-class work. When Taylor developed the notion of first-class work, he did so with the idea that workers should do as much work as they are physically and mentally capable of doing. Those who were not physically or mentally capable of keeping up with production and job demands were sent to different areas in the plant where they could work most effectively. First-class work was based not on physical strain or bursts of activity, but on what a worker could realistically be expected to do.
Taylor also developed a task management system that allowed work to occur more efficiently and allowed for breaking up a supervisor’s work so that he could function within a discrete area of activities. This focus allowed supervisors to better plan and control the activities for which their workers were responsible. Taylor believed that managers would become better at and more suited to analyzing their specific area of expertise, with authority that came from knowledge and skill and not simply from position or power. He also developed a cost-accounting method that became an integral part of daily planning and control, not something that was applied only to long-term analysis.
Principles of Scientific Management
Taylorism was based on four principles of management:
Principle 1: A manager should develop a rule of science for each aspect of a job. Following this principal ensures that work is based on objective data gathered through research rather than rules of thumb. For example, many people believed that allowing workers to take breaks would limit how much work could be done. After all, how could a worker produce if he was not working? Taylor changed this attitude through research that demonstrated the benefits of breaks during the workday. Due to Taylor’s research, we now enjoy coffee breaks.
Principle 2: Scientifically select and train each worker. When you get to the chapter on human resource management, you will see that Taylor’s ideas still hold. Prior to Taylor’s work, the selection of workers was made based on favoritism, nepotism, or random choice. Taylor got his job at Midvale because the owner was his father’s friend. Likewise, workers were usually selected for a particular job with little consideration of whether they were physically or mentally fit to perform it. Taylor changed this viewpoint by using research to find the best worker for the job.
Principle 3: Management and the workforce should work together to ensure that work is performed according to the principles of management. Taylor’s observation went against the long-established principles of both management and the worker who believed that each was the other’s enemy. Rather than enmity, Taylor stressed cooperation and the need for the work relationship to be mutually beneficial.
Principle 4: Work and responsibility should be equally divided between management and workers. Previously, management set the directives, and workers obeyed or blocked them. Taylor believed that management and workers had joint responsibilities to each other. Management’s responsibility was to scientifically select the quantity of output for the day and provide a fair wage. In return, workers were to provide a fair day’s work.
In addition to his groundbreaking work on scientific management, Taylor attracted a wide variety of talented individuals who aided him in his research. The first important individual was the mathematician Carl G. Barth (1860–1939). Barth made two notable contributions. The first was his work on employee fatigue. He attempted to find what aspects made a worker tired. The second was his use of the slide rule for calculating how much steel to cut. A slide rule is a ruler with a sliding central strip. It makes it possible to perform calculations rapidly and accurately. Barth developed one for cutting steel. Before Barth’s work, workers were required to make difficult calculations to determine how much steel to cut. Usually, they guessed, which led to a lot of errors and waste. With the slide rule, however, the number of errors decreased, as did the costs associated with them.
Another notable contributor to Taylor’s methods was Henry Gantt (1861–1919), who developed the Gantt chart, which allowed for greater and more precise control over the production process. The Gantt chart tracked what was supposed to be done versus what was actually done. Gantt gives two principles for his charts: First, measure the amount of time needed to complete an activity. Second, use the space on the chart to visually represent how much of an activity should have been completed in that given time. These charts allowed management to see how projects were progressing, take steps to see if they were on schedule, and monitor budget concerns. Gantt also pioneered the employee bonus system, in which employees were given a bonus if they completed the task they were assigned.
The next key contributors to Taylor’s system of scientific management were Frank (1868–1924) and Lillian Gilbreth (1878–1972),4Krenn, M. (2011). From Scientific Management to homemaking: Lillian M. Gilbreth’s contributions to the development of management thought. Management & Organizational History, 6(2), 145-161. a couple that sometimes competed with and sometimes worked with Taylor. Frank Gilbreth was a bricklayer who, before who he heard of Taylor, began to find ways to limit his fatigue and more efficiently lay down more bricks. Unlike Taylor, Gilbreth was concerned with motion studies, in which he would film various motions while someone worked on the job. To determine the most efficient way to perform a task, for example, Gilbreth reduced all motions of the hand into some combination of 17 basic motions. Gilbreth would then calculate the most efficient way of carrying out a job. Gilbreth filmed workers performing a wide variety of jobs, including bricklaying, secretarial duties, and even a baseball game.
When working in construction, Gilbreth developed a management system that included rules about no smoking on the job, a ten-dollar prize for the best suggestion in how to improve labor, and a new system of training so that workers were taught only the best way to perform a task. He developed a rule that all accident sites be photographed for use in future lawsuits. Gilbreth also prepared employees for their present and future positions by introducing a plan for promotion, training, and development. This system required charting promotion paths and record keeping for performance appraisals. He wanted to impress upon both workers and managers an understanding of fatigue and of how to improve pay. In his research, Gilbreth realized that monotony came not from the job itself, but from a worker’s lack of interest in the job.
Lillian Gilbreth may not have been the originator of the industrial psychology movement, but she brought a human element into the study and practice of management with her training and insight. She stated that to understand how to work better, we must understand the worker. Under scientific management, for example, understanding the worker became a fundamental principle in selecting workers for particular tasks and providing workers with incentives. The object was to develop individuals to their fullest potential by strengthening their personal traits, special abilities, and skills. After Frank Gilbreth died, Lillian Gilbreth shifted her focus to increasing domestic efficiency and, in the process, designed the modern kitchen.
Management 2020 text remixed from multiple sources under a CC Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. View a complete list of original sources.