Scientific management (also called Taylorism or the Taylor system) is a theory of management that analyzes and synthesizes workflows, improving labour 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) and The Principles of Scientific Management (1911).
Frederick 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 Scientific Management (or 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 labour pushed to its logical extreme, with a consequent de-skilling of the worker and dehumanisation of the workplace.
Objectives of Scientific Management
The four objectives of management under scientific management were as follows:
1. The development of a science for each element of a man's work to replace the old rule-of-thumb methods.
2. The scientific selection, training and development of workers instead of allowing them to choose their own tasks and train themselves as best they could.
3. The development of a spirit of hearty cooperation between workers and management to ensure that work would be carried out in accordance with scientifically devised procedures.
4. The division of work between workers and the management in almost equal shares, each group taking over the work for which it is best fitted instead of the former condition in which responsibility largely rested with the workers. Self-evident in this philosophy are organizations arranged in a hierarchy, systems of abstract rules and impersonal relationships between staff.
Drawbacks of Scientific Management
While scientific management principles improved productivity and had a substantial impact on industry, they also increased the monotony of work. The core job dimensions of skill variety, task identity, task significance, autonomy, and feedback all were missing from the picture of scientific management.
While in many cases the new ways of working were accepted by the workers, in some cases they were not. The use of stopwatches often was a protested issue and led to a strike at one factory where "Taylorism" was being tested. Complaints that Taylorism was dehumanizing led to an investigation by the United States Congress. Despite its controversy, scientific management changed the way that work was done, and forms of it continue to be used today.
Criticism on Scientific Management
Applications of scientific management sometimes fail to account for two inherent difficulties:
1. It ignores individual differences: the most efficient way of working for one person may be inefficient for another;
2. It ignores the fact that the economic interests of workers and management are rarely identical, so that both the measurement processes and the retraining required by Taylor's methods would frequently be 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 labour unions.
It can also be said that the rise in labour 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 (or Scientific Management), and represents a victory for his theories.
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 (or Scientific Management) 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'. 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 labour 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'.