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Frederick Taylor (1856-1915), developer of scientific management

Scientific management (also called Taylorism or the Taylor system, Taylor himself named it Process management first) is a theory of management that analyzes and synthesizes workflows, with the objective of improving labor productivity. The core ideas of the theory were developed by Frederick Winslow Taylor in the 1880s and 1890s, and were first published in his monographs, Shop Management (1905)[1] and The Principles of Scientific Management (1911).[2] He began trying to discover a way for workers to increase their efficiency when he was the foreperson at the Midvale Steele Company in 1875. Taylor 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. Its application is contingent on a high level of managerial control over employee work practices.

Taylorism is a variation on the theme of efficiency; it is a late 19th and early 20th century instance of the larger recurring theme in human life of increasing efficiency, decreasing waste, and using empirical methods to decide what matters, rather than uncritically accepting pre-existing ideas of what matters. Thus it is a chapter in the larger narrative that also includes, for example, the folk wisdom of thrift, time and motion study, Fordism, and lean manufacturing. It overlapped considerably with the Efficiency Movement, which was the broader cultural echo of scientific management's impact on business managers specifically.

In management literature today, the greatest use of the concept of Taylorism is as a contrast to a new, improved way of doing business. In political and sociological terms, Taylorism can be seen as the division of labor pushed to its logical extreme, with a consequent de-skilling of the worker and dehumanisation of the workplace.




General approach

  • Shift in decision making from employees to managers
  • Develop a standard method for performing each job
  • Select workers with appropriate abilities for each job
  • Train workers in the standard method previously developed
  • Support workers by planning their work and eliminating interruptions
  • Provide wage incentives to workers for increased output


  • Scientific approach to business management and process improvement
  • Importance of compensation for performance
  • Began the careful study of tasks and jobs
  • Importance of selection criteria by management
  • Perspective of improving the productivity and efficiency of manual workers


  • Labor is defined and authority/responsibility is legitimised/official
  • Positions placed in hierarchy and under authority of higher level
  • Selection is based upon technical competence, training or experience
  • Actions and decisions are recorded to allow continuity and memory
  • Management is different from ownership of the organization
  • Managers follow rules/procedures to enable reliable/predictable behavior


  • Did not appreciate the social context of work and higher needs of workers.
  • Did not acknowledge variance among individuals.
  • Tended to regard workers as uninformed and ignored their ideas and suggestions.

Mass production methods

Taylorism is often mentioned along with Fordism, because it was closely associated with mass production methods in manufacturing factories. Taylor's own name for his approach was scientific management. This sort of task-oriented optimization of work tasks is nearly ubiquitous today in industry, and has made most industrial work menial, repetitive and tedious; this can be noted, for instance, in assembly lines and fast-food restaurants. Taylor's methods began from his observation that, in general, workers forced to perform repetitive tasks work at the slowest rate that goes unpunished. This slow rate of work has been called by various terms, including "soldiering",[3] (reflecting the way conscripts may approach following orders), "dogging it"[4], or "goldbricking"[5]. Managers may call it by those names or "loafing" or "malingering"; workers may call it "getting through the day" or "preventing management from abusing us". Taylor used the term "soldiering" and observed that, when paid the same amount, workers will tend to do the amount of work that the slowest among them does. This reflects the idea that workers have a vested interest in their own well-being, and do not benefit from working above the defined rate of work when it will not increase their compensation. He therefore proposed that the work practice that had been developed in most work environments was crafted, intentionally or unintentionally, to be very inefficient in its execution. He posited that rational analysis and synthesis could uncover one best method for performing any particular task, that prevailing methods were seldom equal to these best methods, and that if the best methods were taught to workers and their compensation was linked to output, their productivity would go up.

Taylor introduced many concepts that were not widely accepted at the time. For example, by observing workers, he decided that labor should include rest breaks so that the worker has time to recover from fatigue. He proved this with the task of unloading ore: workers were taught to take rest during work and as a result production increased.

Today's armies employ scientific management. Of the key points listed, all but wage incentives for increased output are used by modern military organizations. Wage incentives rather appear in the form of skill bonuses for enlistments.

Division of labor

Unless people manage themselves, somebody has to take care of administration, and thus there is a division of work between workers and administrators. One of the tasks of administration is to select the right person for the right job:

the labor should include rest breaks so that the worker has time to recover from fatigue.Now one of the very first requirements for a man who is fit to handle pig iron as a regular occupation is that he shall be so stupid and so phlegmatic that he more nearly resembles in his mental make-up the ox than any other type. The man who is mentally alert and intelligent is for this very reason entirely unsuited to what would, for him, be the grinding monotony of work of this character. Therefore the workman who is best suited to handling pig iron is unable to understand the real science of doing this class of work.
—Taylor 1911, 59

This view—match the worker to the job—has resurfaced time and time again in management theories.[citation needed] Many theories have been applied to the business.

Extension to "Sales Engineering"

Taylor believed scientific management could be extended to "the work of our salesmen." Shortly after his death, his acolyte Harlow S. Person began to lecture corporate audiences on the possibility of using Taylorism for "sales engineering." (Dawson 2005) This was a watershed insight in the history of corporate marketing.


Applications of scientific management sometimes fail to account for two inherent difficulties:

  • Individuals are different from each other: the most efficient way of working for one person may be inefficient for another;
  • The economic interests of workers and management are rarely identical, so that both the measurement processes and the retraining required by Taylor's methods are frequently resented and sometimes sabotaged by the workforce.

Both difficulties were recognised by Taylor, but are generally not fully addressed by managers who only see the potential improvements to efficiency. Taylor believed that scientific management cannot work unless the worker benefits. In his view management should arrange the work in such a way that one is able to produce more and get paid more, by teaching and implementing more efficient procedures for producing a product.

Although Taylor did not compare workers with machines, some of his critics use this metaphor to explain how his approach makes work more efficient by removing unnecessary or wasted effort. However, some would say that this approach ignores the complications introduced because workers are necessarily human: personal needs, interpersonal difficulties and the very real difficulties introduced by making jobs so efficient that workers have no time to relax. As a result, workers worked harder, but became dissatisfied with the work environment. Some have argued that this discounting of worker personalities led to the rise of labor unions.

It can also be said that the rise in labor unions is leading to a push on the part of industry to accelerate the process of automation, a process that is undergoing a renaissance with the invention of a host of new technologies starting with the computer and the Internet. This shift in production to machines was clearly one of the goals of Taylorism, and represents a victory for his theories.

It may not be adaptive to changing scenarios; it overemphasizes routine procedures, i.e strictly following a given set of rules and regulations, work procedures, production centredness etc.

However, tactfully choosing to ignore the still controversial process of automating human work is also politically expedient, so many still say that practical problems caused by Taylorism led to its replacement by the human relations school of management in 1930. Others (Braverman 1974) insisted that human relations did not replace Taylorism but that both approaches are rather complementary: Taylorism determining the actual organisation of the work process and human relations helping to adapt the workers to the new procedures.

However, Taylor's theories were clearly at the roots of a global revival in theories of scientific management in the last two decades of the 20th century, under the moniker of 'corporate reengineering' or 'business process reengineering'. As such, Taylor's ideas can be seen as the root of a very influential series of developments in the workplace, with the goal being the eventual elimination of industry's need for unskilled, and later perhaps, even most skilled labor in any form, directly following Taylor's recipe for deconstructing a process. This has come to be known as commodification, and no skilled profession, even medicine, has proven to be immune from the efforts of Taylor's followers, the 'reengineers', who are often called derogatory names such as 'bean counters'.


Scientific management was an early attempt to systematically treat management and process improvement as a scientific problem. With the advancement of statistical methods, the approach was improved and referred to as quality control in 1920s and 1930s. During the 1940s and 1950s, the body of knowledge for doing scientific management evolved into Operations Research and management cybernetics. In the 1980s there was total quality management, in the 1990s re-engineering. Today's Six Sigma and lean manufacturing could be seen as new kinds of scientific management, though their principles vary so drastically that the comparison might be misleading. In particular, Shigeo Shingo, one of the originators of the Toyota Production System that this system and Japanese management culture in general should be seen as kind of scientific management.[citation needed]

Peter Drucker saw Frederick Taylor as the creator of knowledge management, as the aim of scientific management is to produce knowledge about how to improve work processes. Although some have questioned whether scientific management is suitable only for manufacturing, Taylor himself advocated scientific management for all sorts of work, including the management of universities and government.

Scientific management has had an important influence in sports, where stop watches and motion studies rule the day. (Taylor himself enjoyed sports—especially tennis and golf—and he invented improved tennis racquets and improved golf clubs, although other players liked to tease him for his unorthodox designs, and they did not catch on as replacements for the mainstream implements.)

Scientific management and the Soviet Union

Taylorism in the Soviet Union was advocated by Aleksei Gastev and nauchnaia organizatsia truda (the movement for the scientific organisation of labor). It found support in both Lenin and Trotsky. Gastev continued to promote this system of labor management until his arrest and execution in 1939.[6] Historian Thomas Hughes (Hughes 2004) has detailed the way in which the Soviet Union in the 1920s and 1930s enthusiastically embraced Fordism and Taylorism, importing American experts in both fields as well as American engineering firms to build parts of its new industrial infrastructure. The concepts of the Five Year Plan and the centrally planned economy can be traced directly to the influence of Taylorism on Soviet thinking. Hughes quotes Stalin:

American efficiency is that indomitable force which neither knows nor recognises obstacles; which continues on a task once started until it is finished, even if it is a minor task; and without which serious constructive work is impossible . . . The combination of the Russian revolutionary sweep with American efficiency is the essence of Leninism.
—Hughes 2004: 251, quoting Stalin 1976: 115

Hughes offers the equation "Taylorismus + Fordismus = Amerikanismus" to describe what happened: as the Soviet Union developed and grew in power, both sides, the Soviets and the Americans, chose to ignore or deny the contribution that American ideas and expertise had: the Soviets because they wished to portray themselves as creators of their own destiny and not indebted to a rival, and the Americans because they did not wish to acknowledge their part in creating a powerful rival.

See also



  • Hugh G. J. Aitken, Scientific Management in Action: Taylorism at Watertown Arsenal, 1908-1915, Princeton University Press, Reprint 1985
  • Braverman, Harry, 1974, Labor and Monopoly Capital: The Degradation of Work in the Twentieth Century, New York 1974, New Edition: Monthly Review Press, New York 1998, ISBN 0853459401
  • Dawson, Michael (2005). The Consumer Trap: Big Business Marketing in American Life (paper ed.). Urbana: University of Illinois Press. ISBN 0-252-07264-2. 
  • Head, Simon : The New Ruthless Economy. Work and Power in the Digital Age, Oxford UP 2005 - Head analyzes current implementations of Taylorism not only at the assembly line, but also in the offices and in medicine ("managed care"), ISBN 0195179838
  • Hughes, Thomas P., 2004 American Genesis: A Century of Invention and Technological Enthusiasm 1870-1970. 2nd ed. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, ISBN 0226359271
  • Robert Kanigel, 1999 The One Best Way: Frederick Winslow Taylor and the Enigma of Efficiency, Penguin, ISBN 0-14-026080-3
  • Stalin, J. V. (1976) Problems of Leninism, Lectures Delivered at the Sverdlov University Foreign Languages Press, Peking

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