Frederick Winslow Taylor photo

Frederick W. Taylor: Master of Scientific Management

Frederick Winslow Taylor is a controversial figure in management history. His innovations in industrial engineering, particularly in time and motion studies, paid off in dramatic improvements in productivity. At the same time, he has been credited with destroying the soul of work, of dehumanizing factories, making men into automatons. What is Taylor's real legacy? I'm not sure that management historians will ever agree. But the following article is quite interesting, and Taylor's keystone book, The Principles of Scientific Management is now available from Engineering and Management Press, at phone numbers: +1.800.494.0460, or +1.770.449.0460.

What follows is a copy of part of a senior essay, written by Vincenzo Sandrone during the course of his studies at the University of Technology in Sydney. We reprint it here with his permission. Copyright 1997.

Source for quotes is:
Taylor, Frederick W., 1964, Scientific Management - Comprising Shop Management, The principles of Scientific Management and Testimony before the Special House Committee, Harper and Row

Note: All the quotes are from 'Scientific Management' This needs to be highlighted, since the edition restarted page numbers for each separate section. That is, page numbers are not unique.


F. W. Taylor & Scientific Management by Vincenzo Sandrone

Under Taylor's management system, factories are managed through scientific methods rather than by use of the empirical "rule of thumb" so widely prevalent in the days of the late nineteenth century when F. W. Taylor devised his system and published "Scientific Management" in 1911.

The main elements of the Scientific Management are [1] : "Time studies Functional or specialized supervision Standardization of tools and implements Standardization of work methods Separate Planning function Management by exception principle The use of "slide-rules and similar time-saving devices" Instruction cards for workmen Task allocation and large bonus for successful performance The use of the 'differential rate' Mnemonic systems for classifying products and implements A routing system A modern costing system etc. etc. " Taylor called these elements "merely the elements or details of the mechanisms of management" He saw them as extensions of the four principles of management.[2]
1. The development of a true science
2. The scientific selection of the workman
3. The scientific education and development of the workman
4. Intimate and friendly cooperation between the management and the men.

Taylor warned [3] of the risks managers make in attempting to make change in what would presently be called, the culture, of the organization. He stated the importance of management commitment and the need for gradual implementation and education. He described "the really great problem" involved in the change "consists of the complete revolution in the mental attitude and the habits of all those engaged in the management, as well of the workmen." [4] Taylor taught that there was one and only one method of work that maximized efficiency. "And this one best method and best implementation can only be discovered or developed through scientific study and analysis... This involves the gradual substitution of science for 'rule of thumb' throughout the mechanical arts." [5] "Scientific management requires first, a careful investigation of each of the many modifications of the same implement, developed under rule of thumb; and second, after time and motion study has been made of the speed attainable with each of these implements, that the good points of several of them shall be unified in a single standard implementation, which will enable the workman to work faster and with greater easy than he could before. This one implement, then is the adopted as standard in place of the many different kinds before in use and it remains standard for all workmen to use until superseded by an implement which has been shown, through motion and time study, to be still better." [6] An important barrier to use of scientific management was the limited education of the lower level of supervision and of the work force. A large part of the factory population was composed of recent immigrants who lacked literacy in English. In Taylor's view, supervisors and workers with such low levels of education were not qualified to plan how work should be done. Taylor's solution was to separate planning from execution. "In almost all the mechanic arts the science which underlies each act of each workman is so great and amounts to so much that the workman who is best suited to actually doing the work is incapable of fully understanding this science.." [7] To apply his solution, Taylor created planning departments, staffed them with engineers, and gave them the responsibility to:
1. Develop scientific methods for doing work.
2. Establish goals for productivity.
3. Establish systems of rewards for meeting the goals.
4. Train the personnel in how to use the methods and thereby meet the goals.

Perhaps the key idea of Scientific management and the one which has drawn the most criticism was the concept of task allocation. Task allocation [8] is the concept that breaking task into smaller and smaller tasks allows the determination of the optimum solution to the task. "The man in the planning room, whose specialty is planning ahead, invariably finds that the work can be done more economically by subdivision of the labour; each act of each mechanic, for example, should be preceded by various preparatory acts done by other men." [9]

The main argument against Taylor is this reductionist approach to work dehumanizes the worker. The allocation of work "specifying not only what is to be done but how it is to done and the exact time allowed for doing it" [10] is seen as leaving no scope for the individual worker to excel or think. This argument is mainly due to later writing rather than Taylor's work as Taylor stated "The task is always so regulated that the man who is well suited to his job will thrive while working at this rate during a long term of years and grow happier and more prosperous, instead of being overworked." [11] Taylor's concept of motivation left something to be desired when compared to later ideas. His methods of motivation started and finished at monetary incentives. While critical of the then prevailing distinction of "us "and "them" between the workforce and employers he tried to find a common ground between the working and managing classes.

"Scientific Management has for its foundation the firm conviction that the true interests of the two are one and the same; that prosperity for the employer cannot exist a long term of years unless it is accompanied by prosperity for the employee [sic], and vice versa .." [12] However, this emphasis on monetary rewards was only part of the story. Rivalry between the Bethlehem and Pittsburgh Steel plants led to the offer from Pittsburgh of 4.9 cents per ton against Bethlehem's rate of 3.2 cents per day to the ore loaders. The ore loaders were spoken to individually and their value to the company reinforced and offers to re-hire them at any time were made. The majority of the ore loaders took up the Pittsburgh offers. Most had returned after less than six weeks. [13] The rates at Pittsburgh were determined by gang rates. Peer pressure from the Pittsburgh employees to not work hard meant that the Bethlehem workers actually received less pay than at Bethlehem. Two of the Bethlehem workers requested to be placed in a separate gang, this was rejected by management for the extra work required by management to keep separate record for each worker. Taylor places the blame squarely on management and their inability "to do their share of the work in cooperating with the workmen." [14]

Taylor's attitudes towards workers were laden with negative bias "in the majority of cases this man deliberately plans to do as little as he safely can." [15] The methods that Taylor adopted were directed solely towards the uneducated. "When he tells you to pick up a pig and walk, you pick it up and walk, and when he tells you to sit down and rest, you sit down. You do that right through the day. And what's more, no back talk". This type of behaviour towards workers appears barbaric in the extreme to the modern reader, however, Taylor used the example of Schmidt at the Bethlehem Steel Company to test his theories. Taylor admits "This seems rather rough talk. And indeed it would be if applied to an educated mechanic, or even an intelligent labourer." [17] The fact that Taylor took the effort to firstly know the workers name and to cite it is some indication that he empathized with the workforce. This study improved the workrate of Schmidt from 12.5 tons to 47.5 tons per day showing the worth of Scientific Management.

The greatest abuse of Scientific Management has come from applying the techniques without the philosophy behind them. It is obvious from Taylor's own observations that the above discussion would be misplaced in other workers. Taylor acknowledged the potential for abuse in his methods. "The knowledge obtained from accurate time study, for example, is a powerful implement, and can be used, in one case to promote harmony between workmen and the management, by gradually educating, training, and leading the workmen into new and better methods of doing the work, or in the other case, it may be used more or less as a club to drive the workmen into doing a larger day's work for approximately the same pay that they received in the past." [17] Scientific Study and standardization were important parts of the Scientific Management. One example, was the study undertaken to determine the optimum shovel load for workers. The figure of 21 pounds [18] was arrived at by the study. To ensure that this shovel load was adhered to, a series of different shovels were purchased for different types of material. Each shovel was designed to ensure that only 21 pounds could be lifted. This stopped the situation where "each shoveller owned his own shovel, that he would frequently go from shoveling ore, with a load of about 30 pounds per shovel, to handling rice coal, with a load on the same shovel of less than 4 pounds. In the one case, he was so overloaded that it was impossible for him to do a full day's work, and in the other case he was so ridiculously under-loaded that it was manifestly impossible to even approximate a day's work." [19]

Taylor spent a considerable amount of his books in describing "soldiering" the act of 'loafing' both at an individual level and "systematic soldiering". He described the main reasons that workers were not performing their work at the optimum. Though worded in a patronizing way the essence of the descriptions are still valid: [20]
1. The belief that increased output would lead to less workers.
2. Inefficiencies within the management control system such as poorly designed incentive schemes and hourly pay rates not linked to productivity.
3. Poor design of the performance of the work by rule-of-thumb

The fear of redundancies within the workforce was a valid argument during the previous style of management. Taylor not only countered this argument by using economic arguments of increased demand due to decreased pricing but put forward the idea of sharing the gains with the workforce. Taylor saw the weaknesses of piece work in the workers reactions to gradual decreases in the piece rate as the worker produced more pieces by working harder and/or smarter. The worker then is determined to have no more reduction in rate by "soldiering". This deception leads to an antagonistic view of management and a general deterioration of the worker/management relationship. Taylor also was a strong advocate of worker development. It follows that the most important object of both the workman and the establishment should be the training and development of each individual in the establishment, so that he can do ( at his fastest pace and with the maximum of efficiency) the highest class of work for which his natural abilities for him." [21]

Taylor's ideas on management and workers speaks of justice for both parties. "It (the public) will no longer tolerate the type of employer who has his eyes only on dividends alone, who refuses to do his share of the work and who merely cracks the whip over the heads of his workmen and attempts to drive them harder work for low pay. No more will it tolerate tyranny on the part of labour which demands one increase after another in pay and shorter hours while at the same time it becomes less instead of more efficient."[22] Taylor's system was widely adopted in the United States and the world. Although the Taylor system originated in the factory production departments, the concept of separating planning from execution was universal in nature and, hence, had potential application to other areas: production support services offices operations service industries.

Management's new responsibilities were extended to include: [23] Replacing the old rule-of-thumb with scientific management Scientifically select and train, teach and develop the workman "Heartily cooperate with the men so as to insure[sic] all the work being done in accordance with the principles of the science which has been developed" Take over the work for which they are "better fitted" than the workmen. Relationship between Taylorism and TQM Taylor's more general summary of the principles of Scientific Management are better suited for inclusion into the TQM methodology, than the narrow definitions. "It is no single element , but rather the this whole combination, that constitutes Scientific Management, which may be summarized as: Science, not rule of thumb Harmony, not discord Cooperation, not individualism Maximum output in place of restricted output The development of each man to his greatest efficiency and prosperity" [24] Much has happened, since Taylor developed his method of Scientific Management, to make obsolete the premises on which he based his concepts: Lack of education is no longer reason enough to separate the planning function The balance of power between managers and the work force has changed. Whereas in Taylor's time it was heavily weighted against the workers. Unionism (or the threat of it) has profoundly changed that balance. Changes in the climate of social thinking. Revolts against the "dehumanizing" of work.

A basic tenet of Scientific management was that employees were not highly educated and thus were unable to perform any but the simplest tasks. Modern thought is that all employees have intimate knowledge of job conditions and are therefore able to make useful contributions. Rather than dehumanizing the work and breaking the work down into smaller and smaller units to maximize efficiency without giving thought to the job satisfaction of the working. Encouragement of work based teams in which all workers may contribute. Such contributions increase worker morale, provide a sense of ownership, and improve management-worker relations generally.

References

1. Scientific Management, pg 129-130
2. Scientific Management, pg 130
3. Scientific Management, pg 131
4. Scientific Management, pg 131
5. Scientific Management, pg 25
6. Scientific Management, pg 119
7. Scientific Management, pp 25-25
8. Scientific Management, pg 39
9. Scientific Management, pg 38
10. Scientific Management, pg 39
11. Scientific Management, pg 39
12. Scientific Management, pg 10
13. Scientific Management, pg 75
14. Scientific Management, pg 77
15. Scientific Management, pg 13
16. Scientific Management, pg 46
17. Scientific Management, pp 133-134
18. Scientific Management, pg 66
19. Scientific Management, pg 67
20. Scientific Management, pg 23
21. Scientific Management, pg 12
22. Scientific Management, pg 139
23. Scientific Management, pg 36
24. Scientific Management, pg 140


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