Scientific management may be described as science where workers have specific but different responsibilities. It is one of the first notable paradigm shifts in management style in the 20th century. The main objectives of scientific management can be described as follows:
The development of a new mechanism for each part of a job replacing old rule-of-thumb methods.
Selecting, training and developing workers in a scientific manner instead of self-selection of tasks and self-training by workers.
The development of cooperation and synergy between workers and management ensuring that work is done according to scientifically devised procedures.
Equal division of work between management and labor with management taking planning responsibility and workers executing the plans properly.
Frederick Winslow Taylor was the pioneer of this paradigm shift. He is known as the father of modern management. Taylor was working as an engineer when he published his book “Principles of Scientific Management” in 1909 whereby he described a management approach that laid emphasis on bettering work methods through observation and analysis.
He also encouraged using financial incentives to increase worker productivity and developed what is now known as the motivation theory. Taylor laid down a framework for organizational success which included a clear demarcation of authority and responsibility, the separation of planning from operations, incentives for workers and task specialization. Taylor used time and motion studies to evaluate worker productivity and its determinants and consequently advocated the implementation of financial rewards to increase their productivity. He also championed division of labour and supervision to make best use of worker expertise and maximize production.
Taylor’s approach to scientific management can be summarized by the following principles:
Scientific management is the base of modern management and has led to the development and evolution of the industrial world over the past century. It is safe to say that this form of management represents many benefits for its users. These can be enumerated as follows:
Work is carried out in a systematic way with predetermined plans. Detailed and specific instructions and guidance are provided to employees.
Scientific management ensues optimum utilization of available resources and it targets minimization of wastage and inefficiency of any kind.
However, it would be wrong to say that this is a perfect approach to management. Like all the theories before it, scientific management is also flawed and this has led to the development of further theories on management. Maqbool (2011) argued the even though Taylorism brought on mass production, cost-effectiveness and economies of scale, it has also reduced the work environment to a highly mechanized place with narrow job focus and where materialism prevailed. Lack of imagination and rigid and inflexible work patterns made the working environment deplorable. With Taylorism, there was an upsurge in bureaucracy which in turn created distance between employees and as a consequence they were deprived of healthy feedback from each other. There was also a lack of innovation due to fixed rules.
Today more than a century after this theory came to be, there are many shortcomings that can be highlighted with respect to its application to the modern workplace. The “one size fits all” approach to motivation, the emphasis on efficiency with no regard for quality, and the refusal of management to accept suggestions from subordinates are all very outdated today.
Taylor’s theory is recognized worldwide and soon after its publication was adopted by several countries and industries. The first country to adopt it was the Soviet Union whose leader actually intended to use this approach to manage a whole nation. In the 1920s, Japan adopted the theory. A Japanese industrialist increased productivity by 20% by reducing work space area by 30% and decreasing work time by one hour a day. Other countries like the US and Europe also adopted Taylorism in their industries.
A common example of a company which uses scientific management today is Microsoft. The technology giant applies this theory to its research and development department where there is the concept of specialization as development teams conceive and undertake initial development only.
Taylor’s work really revolutionized the way organizations did things. The emphasis on increasing efficiency and productivity were attractive to industrialists who wanted to maximize profit. The Taylor approach was widely adopted by manufacturers in the early 20th century where the first forms of mass production and flow line techniques were being introduced.
F.W Taylor might have been the first to introduce scientific management to the world but he was not the only writer and advocate for this approach to management. There are several others who have added to the theory over time. Some of the biggest names in Scientific Management are Frank Gilbreths and Lillian Gilbreths, Henry Gantt and Charles Bedaux.
The Gilbreths conducted a motion study and developed the principles of motion economy. They advocated that workers should have standard days, scheduled rest breaks and normal lunch periods. Their work helped impacted greatly on child labour laws and rules protecting workers from unsafe working conditions.
Henry Gantt worked with Taylor and is known for his work which lay emphasis on conditions that had favorable psychological effects on workers. He in a way had a humanizing influence on management. Gantt also established the quota system and set bonuses for workers who exceeded the quotas. Gantt also created the Gantt Chart which is a useful time-based planning tool and helps keep track of projects at various stages of development.
Charles Bedaux contributed to scientific management by introducing the concept of rating assessment in timing work which led to great improvements in employee productivity.
Even though scientific management is not totally relevant to modern industries, it sparked the revolution that transformed the industry for the better and introduced the now common advanced production techniques. Despite all its flaws, it has undoubtedly set the stage for industrialization, mechanization and advancement in technology in our modern industries.