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Scientific Management Essay


In the late nineteenth century, the United States has experienced a rapid growth in industry and business, followed by historical background of ‘the Civil War’ (1861-1865); during that period, the government had huge expenditures on industrial necessities in order to maintain a large army. In 1890, the United States for the first time produced a larger proportion of industrial products than agricultural and therefore, the country in an unprecedented case, had undergone complex forms of organisation with new technologies leading to significant decline in efficiency and output. Frederic Taylor and Henri Fayol notably began theorising about managing the body with solutions, which are known as scientific management and became communicable and teachable discipline for large organisation managers. In this essay, I will elaborate on scientific management and analyse why the 19th century industrial practices has no longer relevant to the present day.


Scientific management, which was initiated by Frederick Taylor (also called Taylorism) in 1911, claimed that decisions about job design and organisations should be based on accurate scientific procedures, having carefully thought and studied individual situations. Scientific management, in order to find the ‘one best way’, relied on time and motion and stated that the best way of improving efficiency is to enhance techniques and material used by the workers. The more focused management principles to the total organisation are increase in professional experience (Spender, 1996). Henri Fayol, for example, proposed fourteen principles of administration, such as “Similar activities in an organisation should be grouped under a single manager”; unity of direction and “Every subordinate receives orders from only one superior”; unity of command (General and Industrial Management, 1916). Scientific management and administrative principles considered the organisation as a closed system, which did not take into account the uncertainty and rapid change of the environment to which companies are subject today (Drucker, 2001).

Fordism is a work form organisation designed for efficient mass production named from Henry Ford. This work form has characteristics of deskilling of waste workforces, restriction of labour with one single task and strong hierarchical authority. And therefore, is closely linked with Taylorism (Scientific management). Fordism however, used semi-skilled workers who could be replaced easily and this identified as ‘Continuous improvement’ (Buchanan and Huczynski, 1985, p431). It had major innovations: * Jobs using time-and-motion techniques, which principles of scientific management are applied; removal of inefficiency, allocation of labours into simple tasks. They all had been scientifically designed to reach maximum efficiency. * Division of labour (specialisation); allocation of labours into ‘farmer machines’, which means the single-purpose machines. * Introduction of assembly line; a continuous automatic conveyor assembly line introduced in 1914.

Although there were advantages of Taylorism and Fordism, which were suitable in 19th century, they gradually had to face several criticisms. The vital cons of scientific management are that the idea of the ‘one-best-way’ neglected different approach of workings, which then caused frequent labour turnover, and the psychological and sociological needs. Under the top-down hierarchy there would had been a lack of flexibility, communication, and creativity. In addition, the motivation of labours was extremely low due to small amount of interest compare to their working hours.

They are biased on mechanistic organisation of speed and output than organic organisation. Fordism could theoretically be efficient in short term (i.e. The Ford car company produced 27 cars in 1908, and by 1923 quantity output had dramatically increased to 2,000) but in long term, labours lost interest and concentration, due to repetition of identical works, could rather cause adverse effect on efficiency. Also deskilled labour imposed restriction on variety of products, difficult to innovate new products and produced low-quality goods. These work designs also had to confront with hardness of applying complex tasks and collaborative works.

Following the classical theory of administration, other academic approaches emerged, the Hawthorne studies showed that positive treatment increased employee motivation and productivity based on leadership, motivation and human resource management. In bureaucracy the work of sociologists, began with Weber, appeared in the 50’s and 60’s and helped establish the notions of bureaucracy. Subsequently organisations were seen as rational systems for decision making and problem solving (Reich, 1993). Organisations became tremendously over managed, with inflated administrative, personal and professional reasons that could sink many organisations in the 1970’s and 1980’s. International competition from Europe and Japan was a sudden awakening and therefore, in the 1980’s the United States companies had to discover a better way of facing competition, declining staff (Reich, 1993).

The 1980’s were characterised by new corporate cultures; organisations with few staff, flexible, quick to respond to the client, motivated employees, concerned about the customer and offer quality products. The people’s taste, the world and its environment were changing fast because corporate boundaries were altered by many merger activities and increasing international competition. Today, the world and therefore the business world are undergoing profound changes; the old organisational structures and management methods are inadequate to deal with the emergence of the post-modern organisations (Stewart Clegg, 1990 p.50, 181).

Taylor’s followers, in search of greater efficiency and productivity, led the practical application of those principles to the excesses of the ‘Fordism’ but also laid foundations of the mass production system that led much prosperity to industrialised countries, especially the United States. Fayol advocated the direction and command unit and it is possible to incorporate within a single organisation throughout the production process. There were excesses of the ‘Fordism’ and in a response to that, a new direction of research and knowledge that tried to “humanise” administrative practices.

There were the contributions of Elton Mayo, Chester Barnard and others, who introduced the psychological and sociological studies as a new approach of thinking and study administration (Taylor, 2003). In 1975 Koontz and O’Donnell made a singular contribution to management theory, which has not been sufficiently recognised. This is the publication of The General Theory of administration, Juan Ignacio Jimenez Nieto. The author states solutions based on the immediate investigation of what was done in organisations, to go back to the establishment of formal object of management as a science (The principles of scientificmanagement, Taylor, 1911).

Since the last quarter of the 20th century there was improved theory that might be called information revolution. And advances in information technology have enabled to improve disadvantages of classical theory from last decade. It has affected industry and caused changes in industrial system from mass production to flexible production systems; this helped and stimulated globalisation of world trade in the last twenty years (Villagrasa, 1995). At the end of the 1970’s there was a development on flexibility of production systems including changes in the way we manage on the classical theory. The emphasis is no longer in production (producing massively with low unit costs and then make the sale of the produce through good marketing), but in the market produce what the customer wants to buy.

The flexible system allows adapted to the requirements of demand, rapid changes in production process. Advanced information systems allow direct contact with suppliers and distributors, so that they do not need long permanence of raw materials and finished products in stores. It enables to produce what the market demands and satisfies the customer immediately (Taylor, 2003). In United States, the 1980’s were embarrassing for some people and opportunity for others. The whole country was so puzzling that, as stated Reich, lost competitive advantage in global trade by sticking to the principles of scientific management, who had brought a great wealth to the country and prosperity, but that then were proving inadequate (Spender, 1996).

By not understanding that this was a new way to manage, followed managing facilities with great potential for flexibility, like assembly line mass production, mordant losing competitive Japanese firms did have to completely change the way to manage the new technology. There was the recession in the United States between 1990 and 1991, which opened their mind and eyes to change and therefore, began the prosperity period of 10 years that made them not only to get back on the advanced, but also management technology. The Economist magazine has published, on 3rd of November 2001, a survey of the near future, by Peter Drucker (Drucker, 2001). In the survey he analysed what will be the new company, fixing their attention on five sections:

* New demographic,
* The new workforce,
* The paradox of manufacturing,
* Survival of corporations,
* The road ahead.

The new conditions will produce enormous population changes over the next 25 years, especially in developed countries because it provides a relative aging of the population. This will result in the inability to maintain current systems, which require further work on more years, but not in the current form of full time jobs. For Drucker, knowledge will be the predominant factor in the years to come. In fact it already is currently, but the new company will be the main resource (Drucker, 2001). This will cause high competitiveness in the future for both organisations and for the same individuals

. The speed and universal access to knowledge will make all institutions, not only commercial but also schools, universities, hospitals and even government agencies, to be competitive in global. Now understood as knowledge workers to high skilled people with great theoretical knowledge, but what also will be involved in the future is technologists, i.e., computer technicians, software designers, clinical laboratory analysts, etc. These people have both manual and knowledge workers, but his handiwork is based on a theoretical preparation, professional, acquired by education and not by learning.

As mentioned above, highly educated and skilled labour would not be treated as a machine and they will not be paid with low interest rates. Nowadays, in a big organisation such as Samsung and Apple, in order to communicate each other well they respect their workers and company runs as a group. Due to the fast change of environment, trend, people’s taste and wants, scientific management is less suitable in present days than 19th century. However, there are still a few companies using scientific management; car and computer manufacturing companies for example, Toyota, Japanese worldwide car company.


Scientific management is heavily criticised due to deficient psychological and sociological approaches. However, due to the fact that an organisation’s productivity and efficiency can never be neglected this theory occupies large proportion in Business Administration. And this is why this theory still plays an important role in present days.

Except for cases like Drucker, his most immediate concern was: what to do to manage better in the current circumstances, especially to the phenomenon of globalization of markets, the current economic crisis and the tremendous competition that requires employer’s immediate response to the challenges they face. But the future is unfolding today, and requires further theoretical studies that allow us to meet these future challenges (Drucker, 2001).


Drucker, Peter (2001). “The Next Society”, in the Economist, November 3. Reich, Robert B. (1993). “The Next American Frontier,” in The Atlantic Monthly, March. Taylor, F. W. (1911). The principles of scientificmanagement. New York: Harper & Brothers. TAYLOR, F. W. (2003). Scientific management. New York, Taylor & Francis. Villagrasa, SJ, Raymond (1995). “The Administration yesterday and today,” Breakeven, Lima: University of the Pacific. David A. Buchanan and Andrzej A. Huczynski. “ Organizational Behaviour” seventh edition Spender, J.-C. (1996). Villain, victim, or visionary? F. W. Taylor’s contributions to organization theory. In J.-C. Spender, ed. & H. Kijne (Eds.), Scientific Management: Frederick Winslow Taylor’s Gift to the World? (pp. pp. 1–31). Norwell, MA: Kluwer. Spender, J.-C., ed. , & Kijne, H. (Eds.). (1996). Scientific Management: Frederick Winslow Taylor’s Gift to the World? Norwell, MA: Kluwer.

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