What have we inherited from Taylor?

By Christina Villefrance Moeller, TalesOfLeading

The Lean community often emphasize the differences between Taylor’s scientific management and Lean thinking. However, haven’t we inherited anything from Taylor that endures tacitly in our thinking and behavior? Let’s take a closer look at his principles.

The manager’s duties in Scientific Management

In Scientific Management, as Taylor named his system, the manager had four groups of duties.

1) “… the deliberate gathering in on the part of those on the management’s side of all the great mass of traditional knowledge, which in the past has been in the heads of the workmen, and in the physical skill and knack of the workmen, which they have acquired through years of experience.”
2) “… the scientific selection and then progressive development of the workmen.”
3) “… the bringing of the science and the scientifically selected and trained workmen together.”
4) “… an almost equal division of the actual work of the establishment between the workmen, on the one hand and the management, on the other hand.” (Taylor, 1919)

Following these management duties, the employees’ knowledge should be organized and classified scientifically into laws, rules and formulas removing ownership of knowledge from workers to managers. Then management selected and trained these employees accordingly. Well knowing, that employees (and managers) would follow their own ways of working, Taylor proposed that someone should oversee that followed these laws, rules and formulas. Consequently, scientific management authorized managers to control employees work and reduced employees’ autonomy. Taylor envisioned that following scientific management managers and employees would learn cooperatively to work under this system.

Routinization and loss of autonomy

Regardless of Taylor’s intentions, scientific management created jobs for workers who used their hands to do the work, specialists who analyzed and developed work methods and train the workers, and managers who controlled the work and supervised the workers. Compared to the conditions within craft production, scientific management reduced employees’ opportunities for learning as routinization decreased task variability. Additionally, the more an employees’ job consisted of routinized tasks controlled by management the more constrained was employees’ autonomy in terms of influence on his or her working life. Taylor himself experienced difficulties implementing scientific management in manufacturing companies. He met a common fear among workers that increased productivity would lead to loss of jobs, a widespread practice of limiting production, and a widespread use of rule of thumbs and work descriptions without systematic grounds.

Changing the logic

Decomposition of work processes laid the ground for routinization and constituted a shift from craft production to mass-production. Taylor linked routinization closely to optimizing work processes by decomposing work processes into its smallest elements and scientifically finding an optimal way to conduct each element. The underlying logic was that decomposition of work processes enabled functional specialization of roles and technology. Subsequently, increasing production volumes reduced productions costs for customers’ benefit of lower prices, which eventually increased demand (Skorstad, 2002).

Questions for reflections

  • How is the work divided between workers, specialists and managers in your organization?
  • Who is responsible for improving work processes?
  • Are improvement resources allocated accordingly?

Taylor, F. W. (1919). Principles of scientific management.
Skorstad, Egil J. (2002). Orgnaisasjonsformer, Kontinuitet eller forandring?

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