This article discusses the relevance and validity of Frederick W. Taylor’s contributions to Management theory and practice from the perspectives of the past, present, and future. In addition, we compare Taylor with selected scholars and industrialists. While some authors may question Taylor’s contributions and debate his relevance, we believe that he has earned his title of Father of Scientific Management. Taylor’s Scientific Management principles and practices have had a profound impact on management, industrial engineering and, to a lesser extent, industrial psychology. Many of Taylor’s foundational principles will continue to be valuable for centuries to come.
Nestled between the knowns of yesterday and the unknowns of tomorrow, the present is the twilight of the ever impending next era of history. It is with this knowledge that on the 100th anniversary of Frederick W. Taylor’s (1911) publication of The Principles of Scientific Management we pause and reflect on his contributions. Taylor is revered as the Father of Scientific Management, and various authors (Payne, Youngcourt, & Watrous, 2006; Wrege & Greenwood, 1991; Wren, 2005) indicate that this designation is engraved on his tombstone. Management historians acknowledge Taylor’s contributions and his impact on management theory. For example, Wren (1994:131) suggests that “Taylor provided the polestar (i.e., the guiding light) to a significant era in the evolution of management thought.”
This article discusses Taylor’s contributions in terms of industrial efficiencies and work measurement, standardization, delineation and management of tasks and the piecework concept, and organizational behavior. It also provides an analysis of the positive and negative impact of Taylor’s theories as suggested by various authors. In addition, in order to further substantiate the relevance and validity of Taylor’s contributions, they are compared with those of Gilbreth, Cook, Gantt, Fayol and a number of other Management theorists and practitioners. Finally, we analyze the current relevance of Taylor’s theoretical and practical contributions and make recommendations for their use.
Taylor’s thoughts and principles were best revealed in his lectures and books, Shop Management, (1903) and The Principles of Scientific Management (191 1). However, neither contained a concise definition of Scientific Management. Nyland (1996: 986) indicates that Taylor approved the following summary and definition of Scientific Management which was “prepared by Hoxie (1915) shortly before Taylor’s death”:
Scientific management is a system devised by industrial engineers for the purpose of serving the common interests of employers, workmen and society at large through the elimination of avoidable wastes, the general improvement of the processes and methods of production, and the just and scientific distribution of the product (Hoxie, 1915:140).
Taylor (1903, 1911) developed his shop management system partly because he observed soldiering (i.e. workers involved in intentional slacking). Also, his system was in response to organizational problems, inefficiencies and adverse employer-employee relations. Taylor’s philosophies and theories were based on the scientific approach to management and managerial decision making, i.e. data based on research and experimentation. While Taylor’s (1903, 191 1) theories are acknowledged as being management theories, he worked for the interests of both management and labor. Locke (1982: 15) said that there were “virtually no strikes in plants in which (Taylor) applied scientific management,” the principles of which are described by Taylor (1903, 1911). Taylor’s management theories, concepts, and philosophies continue to be debated in the literature, but his contributions are accepted by many scholars (e.g., Bedeian, 1998; Wren, 1994, 2005) as being an integral part of the foundation of modem management.
Taylor’s (1903, 191 1) ideas have had profound impact as a result of his two main texts on the scientific organization of work, i.e., Shop Management and The Principles of Scientific Management (Cossette, 2002; Payne, Youngcourt, & Watrous, 2006; Wren, 1994). Taylor (191 1: 140) used his books to advocate his scientific management philosophy which is based on “science over rule of thumb; harmony, not discord; cooperation, not individualism; maximum output, in place of restricted output; and the development of each man to his greatest efficiency and prosperity.”
Scientific management influenced society in many ways and impacted numerous fields. For example, Flynn (1998a: 23) suggests that “Taylor’s systems introduced quantitative methods: the science in scientific management and the foundation of industrial engineering.” He goes on to say “today, successful management of production is impossible without the use of numbers and a significant ability to crunch, distribute, and understand them” (Flynn, 1998a: 23). Moving from the factory floor to a support area, as a result of Scientific Management, employment departments were formed which used Taylor’s theories in the selection and training of employees, maintenance of employee databases and performance records, and the promotion of employee participation in the decision making process (Wren, 2005).
To further authenticate Taylor’s contributions to scientific management, we offer several of Taylor’s concepts and studies which in his era led to an intellectual revolution in terms of the management of organizations. Flynn (1998) indicated that Taylor made contributions in such areas as work measurement, production planning, production control, process design, quality control, cost accounting, and ergonomics and human engineering. Other writers (Bedeian, 1998; Copley, 1923; Fry, 1976; Locke, 1982; Wilkinson & DuPont, 1965; Wrege and Greenwood, 1991; Wren, 1994, 2005) list contributions in the areas of industrial efficiency, time and motion studies, delineation and management of tasks, standardization, and organizational behavior.
Industrial Efficiency and Work Measurement
Wilkinson and DuPont (1965: 208) stated that “Industrial efficiency and F. W. Taylor have been virtually synonymous since the early part of this (the 20th) century.” Taylor’s pioneering work in industrial efficiency began in the 1890’s and ended with his death in 1915. Knoedler (1997) noted that Veblen’s (1988) definition of technical efficiency was an engineering definition. According to Veblen (1988: 18), technical efficiency exists when mechanized production processes work together “in an efficient manner, without idleness, waste and hardship” to maximize output.
Flynn (1998a: …
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