Scientific Management

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Scientific Management - short version

Born in the 1920s, the science of how an organization quantifies and optimizes the way it creates value, or does business.

Scientific Management - long version

Scientific management, also called Taylorism, was a theory of management that analyzed and synthesized workflows. Its main objective was improving economic efficiency, especially labor productivity. It was one of the earliest attempts to apply science to the engineering of processes and to management. Its development began with Frederick Winslow Taylor in the 1880s and 1890s within the manufacturing industries. Its peak of influence came in the 1910s; by the 1920s, it was still influential but had begun an era of competition and syncretism with opposing or complementary ideas.

Although scientific management as a distinct theory or school of thought was obsolete by the 1930s, most of its themes are still important parts of industrial engineering and management today. These include analysis; synthesis; logic; rationality; empiricism; work ethic; efficiency and elimination of waste; standardization of best practices; disdain for tradition preserved merely for its own sake or merely to protect the social status of particular workers with particular skill sets; the transformation of craft production into mass production; and knowledge transfer between workers and from workers into tools, processes, and documentation.

The core ideas of scientific management were developed by Taylor in the 1880s and 1890s, and were first published in his monographs Shop Management (1903) and The Principles of Scientific Management (1911). While working as a lathe operator and foreman at Midvale Steel, Taylor noticed the natural differences in productivity between workers, which were driven by various causes, including differences in talent, intelligence, or motivations. He was one of the first people to try to apply science to this application, that is, understanding why and how these differences existed and how best practices could be analyzed and synthesized, then propagated to the other workers via standardization of process steps. He believed that decisions based upon tradition and rules of thumb should be replaced by precise procedures developed after careful study of an individual at work, including via time and motion studies, which would tend to discover or synthesize the "one best way" to do any given task. The goal and promise was both an increase in productivity and reduction of effort.

Scientific management's application was contingent on a high level of managerial control over employee work practices. This necessitated a higher ratio of managerial workers to laborers than previous management methods. The great difficulty in accurately differentiating any such intelligent, detail-oriented management from mere misguided micromanagement also caused interpersonal friction between workers and managers, and social tensions between the blue-collar and white-collar classes.


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