Why Scientific Management so Prevalent

Topics: Lillian Moller Gilbreth, Frederick Winslow Taylor, Manufacturing Pages: 10 (3192 words) Published: November 30, 2011
If Scientific Management is as outdated and inhuman as many organizational theorists believe, why is it so prevalent in contemporary organizations?

Raymond Leung


Scientific management was first developed by an American, Frederick Winslow Taylor in the1880s ~1910s and has evolved a lot since then. It is a theory or school of thoughts about process improvement and management. It aims at maximizing efficiency, productivity, output with least cost and minimizing wastes. It was criticized as inhuman by many organizational theorists. However, it is widely applied in manufacturing industry and service industry in both developing and developed countries nowadays. This article is to investigate the reasons why scientific management, which was developed one hundred years ago, is still so prevalent in contemporary organizations.

Development of Scientific Management
Scientific management began in the1880s ~ 1910s. While an American engineer, Frederick Taylor (1856 ~ 1947) was working in manufacturing industry, he observed that there was a natural difference in productivity and output between workers. Although some workers were smarter and more talented than the others, they were often unmotivated and chosen to work at the slowest pace. Taylor believed that there was a best way to do a task which could be achieved by carefully studying an individual’s work (the time and motion studies). By the method of process standardization, the best practice of performing a task can then be applied to other workers. Taylor’s objective was improving efficiency, increasing productivity and output and lowering cost1, 2. His idea and theory were published in “Shop Management” (1903) and “The principle of Scientific Management” (1911). His theory was called Taylorism and he was considered to be the father of scientific management3. At the similar period, another American, Henry Ford (1863 ~ 1947) and his team applied the principles of scientific management at his car manufacturing plant. They introduced the assembly line and mass production technique in 1905 ~ 1915. Ford believed that people were lazy and needed to be controlled. He utilized machinery to remove inefficiency and wastes so as to minimize costs. Ford’s objective was to maximize profits, standardize output, reduce human error, remove wastes and even eliminate human workforce4, 5. His system was called Fordism and was also a chapter of scientific management. Another character is about an American couple, Frank and Lillian. Frank Gilbreth (1868 ~ 1924) and his wife Lillian Gilbreth (1878 ~ 1972) were supporters of scientific management. This American couple was the pioneers in motion study. The motion study stresses on improving efficiency by reducing the motions involved, i.e. performing tasks in a smooth sequence and path. He built a laboratory to investigate how workers move. In his early work, Gilbreth had various collaborations with Taylor. Frank focus on motion study while Taylor focused on time study. Afterwards, due to their difference in belief and business dispute, Gilbreth confronted Taylor in an incident then they became rivals. In fact, Taylor and Gilbreth’s studied both influence each other in later stage6, 7.


The field of scientific management was actually not only the effort of the above characters, but also includes the work of Taylor’s followers (e.g. Henry Gantt), other theorists (e.g. Max Weber), other engineers and managers (e.g. Benjamin Graham). Some views were complementary or in opposite to Taylor’s. Many aspects of scientific management has evolved significantly since Taylor’s date and become modern management methodologies such as lean manufacturing, Six Sigma, Kaizen, 5S, etc. Toyota Production System could also be seen as a kind of scientific management3.

The Principle of Scientific Management
There is no clear definition of scientific management, but the fundamental principles of scientific management can be summarized...
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