“In the past the man has been first; in the future the system must be first” said Frederick Winslow Taylor, creator of a new management theory: Scientific management or Taylorism. It emerged in the end of the 19th century in the industrial context and was experimented and then applied in plants. This organisation of the workflow is based on some principles. First, the use of science to evaluate each task in order to establish ‘scientific laws’ about how to do each particular part of the work.
The managers, using time and motion studies and precise measurements of the workplace, of the workers themselves, decide “the one best way” for the workers to execute the tasks. This is the standardization of work. Scientific management promotes co-operation over individualism. Interests of employers and employees are not antagonist, they are one and the same, prosperity for employer can not exist without employee’s one (F. W. Taylor, 1911). The managers attempt to theorize employees’ work and supervise them.
This is also creating harmony within the company: all work groups should work together, in a team spirit.
It is also based on the specific training of the workers for the task they have been assigned to. Taylorism’s principal aim is to achieve the maximum productivity by promoting the development of each employee. During the 19th and 20th century, scientific management resulted in massive production cost reductions, increases in profit, productivity and improvement in working conditions, environment. Although it has revolutionised management theories, these methods were developed for the last century with different industry, social relations and global aims.
Thus we can discuss if scientific management has or not relevance to the present day. ‘Today, the challenges for management have changed significantly, and the principles of “scientific management” are not applicable to the same extent as before in the industrial society’ (C. Gronroos, 1994:10). Indeed, due to the evolution of the society, taylorism could be considered as out-dated. Firstly, from the 19th century to the present day, we have gone from an industrial economy to a service one. It has incurred huge changes in management systems. The major aims of companies have evolved a lot.
For example, managers are no longer looking for the way to increase production as more as possible. There are new objectives, in accordance with evolution of demand from consumers whose lifestyles have evolved: today, we don’t have the same needs as a century ago and neither have we the same sense of priorities regarding to our consumption or ‘must have’ products. Therefore the general work organization had to change and has. Management strategies now advocate quality of products over quantity in a consumer society with standardized mass-market products where companies now have to differentiate their products.
Original scientific management (as it was at the time) has thus no relevance nowadays as it has been developed in the objective of producing more for the lowest costs and is for example associated with low quality. From the defaults of taylorism have emerged new management principles. The dehumanization brought by it is rejected today. Indeed there were lots of criticisms regarding to that aspect. ‘Man was literally equated with machine and his motives and desires had no place in the scientific management. The theory was not people oriented.
Man was considered a rational being and not the emotional being. It induced in the minds of workers to work more and earn more that reduced them to the level of machines. Very little attention was paid to the welfare, security and health of the employees, if any. ’(V. G. Kondalkar, 2007:21). The repeatability of the tasks made workers seem as tools and not really humans, they can do their work without thinking. Scientific management tries to eradicate human factor, which is associated as a source of inefficiency: men are lazy and are just part of the productive system.
Taylor didn’t really trust in human potential. This is no longer true in current management systems. Modern tools of management insist on the implication of the workers in the exercise of their professional activity. Workers are invited to show autonomy, to take their responsibilities to ensure quality of goods and services produced at the same time where the constraints of performance tend to strengthen considerably. The management of today has to develop the reactivity of all in the organization by setting up a working relation which allows it.
New management methods are based on involvement of every employee at every level into not only his job but the business as a whole. This means that workers think about doing their job in a way to be profitable to the company, not just executing the task they have been allotted. Scientific management losses a lot of its relevance because of the technology evolution, which changes the way of working. For example, methods employed to determine the best way to do a task where a few workers were needed are out-dated because thanks to new machines, only one worker is needed.
New machines allow doing the simple and repetitive tasks allotted by taylorism to the workers, even more quickly and more precisely, improving quality of goods. In the 21st century, new technologies outcomes are totally different from mass production and standardization related to scientific management. The use of robotic and new techniques leads to a refinement of scientific management where the human factor is not denied anymore but instrumentalized to achieve economic objectives.
The evolution of the society, social relationships, improvement in education… has influenced organizational structures and management principles. For example, the balance of power between managers and workers has changed. In the 19th century, the power was essentially in the employer side whereas today, particularly with the emergence of unions, it is quite balanced. The rise in workforce’s education and standard of living has resulted in much more demanding employees (C. Gronroos, 1994).
Historical scientific management is therefore not appropriate anymore, either for its aims or for its principles. However, taylorism is still the origin of everything, it is firstly continued by Fordism with the assembly line and real mass production, going to an upper level of work organization and a new salary policy (5$ a day=double salary) allowing workers to consume and thus stimulating mass consumption. We can talk about “fordist compromise” based on the distribution of the value added advantageous for employees. It implies a win-win situation between employees and employer.
Ford has improved social part of scientific management, encouraging workers to work more. Fordism is also associated with standardization, producing the same product in the same way. This principle still has influence on today’s practices. Furthermore the emerging economy of scale comes from this time. Mass production is widely used and through its development, scientific management has spread into new economic sectors. It has now a new face with the evolution of technology and robotic. From its criticisms have risen new aspects of taylorism, developments and adjustments.
G. Herrigel (2000:1213) has argued that ‘Producers found that it was not possible to implement the ideas of the master, unaltered in practice. The ideas had to be modified, revised and compromised, in order to be implemented’. To the present day, we can observe that in some cases scientific management structure has stayed, and sometimes principles have stayed. Even if it is not employed as such, there is always taylorism influence in systems organizations. The high segmentation of tasks is an example as it was a major principle for Taylor, and is still in use today.
There also has been evolution in the dehumanizing part of scientific management: much more collaboration between workers, different tasks to execute: workers go from workstation to workstation, tasks are less repetitive, responsibility of workers: they set up and maintaining, cleaning their machine. Workers have much more autonomy, they can organise themselves freely to do the job asked by employer. Also, the most difficults and despised tasks are now entrusted to machines and therefore humanize work while increasing performance. By the quest of quality, scientific management acquires a new legitimacy.
It is needed more than chosen by the company. Today, the market imposes a taylorized organization. Moreover, there is not any alternative to repetitive work which is as productive. For example, in the late seventies Volvo tried to return to an old age organization but it was an economic failure. Companies cannot give up productivity and thus accept an increase in goods costs. In this new lease of life, information and communication technologies have played a major role. For example, computers enable specialized workers to store their knowledge and thus permit basic workers to operate more and more complex tasks.
Computers become the workflow medium par excellence, with data storage, softwares… Taylorism’s supervision of the workers principle is also subject to an evolution: no more direct supervisors who have authority over workers to control their work but pressure groups, sensors linked to computers… It can be seen that scientific management still has relevance with toyotism, developed by Taiichi Ohno, whose model is taylorism, and is considered more as a strengthening than a break of scientific management. It applies the same main principles: methodical streamlining of work to increase fficiency but has new production logics: “just in time” production model, resumed with the five zeros rules: zero stock, zero failures, zero delay, zero default, zero paper. It is now the demand that triggers production process: there is no manufacturing before the customer hasn’t asked for it. The organization has evolved to meet more and more differentiated consumers needs. Thus, we observe more and more flexible working structures that advocate versatility. Through toyotism can be seen a generalization of taylorism processes
We may conclude that scientific management is based on an old economic and social context. However it is a basis for all work organizations. It lasts to the present day, thanks to modifications and adjustments incurred, and has a new face. New management systems and work organizations have through time corrected taylorism defaults, to achieve the best efficiency, being integrated within constantly evolving society values.
Buchanan, D. and Huczynski, A. (2010). Organizational Behaviour. 7th ed. Harlow: New York Financial Times. Chapters 14-15. Gronroos, C. 1994) From Scientific Management to Service Management. International Journal of Service Industry Management, Vol. 5, issue 1, pp. 5-20. Herrigel, G. (2000) Review of Manufacturing Ideology: Scientific Management in Twentieth-Century Japan. Chicago: University of Chicago, acting through its Press. Francis, A. (1986) New technology at work. New York: Clarendon Press. Freedman, D. (1992) Is Management Still a Science ? Harvard Business Review. Pugh, D. S. (2007) Scientific Management. Organization Theory: Selected Classic Readings. London: Penguin. pp276-95.
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