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What Is Scientific Management

Updated on January 6, 2019
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Matt is an avid traveller and self-confessed 'man of the world'. He is passionate about his home city, Manchester, & travelling the world.

Scientific Management Theory

People as cogs or gears working under the principles of scientific management theory
People as cogs or gears working under the principles of scientific management theory | Source

What is Scientific Management

Scientific Management is a collective term for Frederick W. Taylor’s 20th century ideas on management theories and practices. Taylor's Scientific Management is a form of job design theory and practice which stresses physical efficiency of each individual worker: short, repetitive work cycles; detailed prescribed task sequences; a separation of task conception from task execution; and motivation based on economic rewards. According to leading Organisational Management authors, Andrzej Huczynski and David Buchanan, efficiency; predictability of performance; and control are the main objectives of Scientific Management.

Scientific Management for Management Control

Some scholars, and professors of Human Resources, have viewed Scientific Management as a way for the performance of labour activities to be controlled by managers, in order to produce a noticeably higher output that could be accurately measured. This control can be realised through the organised study of work; the analysis of work into its simplest elements; and the systematic improvement of the worker’s performance of each of these elements. It's a case of looking at the goal / objective of a worker and breaking down through analysis all of the individual tasks that need to be performed to achieve that objective.

Scientific Management: The Division of Labour

Scientific Management is a system that controls the labour process. Through careful analysis of tasks, and the subsequent simplification of the tasks, management develop monopolisation of knowledge of how to achieve the objective ie management have the overall knowledge of how the overall objective is achieved whilst workers only have knowledge of the specific task to which they are assigned.

Scientific Management theory is often described as the division of labour which allows unskilled workers or automatons to be trained in the most efficient means for carrying out a particular part of a task - usually a very simple task where the worker does not need to use independent thought, initiative or knowledge. Workers working under the principles of Scientific Management are closely monitored and controlled by managers, and pay and rewards are based on productivity - often the number of times in which their specific task is completed.

Through these processes Scientific Management relates reward to the efficiency of effort and output. Frederick Taylor was the first to experiment with these principles in his factory and many people will refer to Taylor's Scientific Management theory as Taylorism.

Scientific Management - Robots

The Scientific Management Workforce
The Scientific Management Workforce | Source

Henry Ford and Scientific Management Theory

Scientific Management is a management system that believes there is one best way to perform a task. It divides a skilled task into small fragments, which can then be carried out by less skilled workers. Through scientific observation, the management team design the work and decide the best way to carry out the task; workers are then trained to do the task in a standardized and clearly specified way.

The workers’ behaviours and performances are closely monitored by the management team. Workers get financially rewarded if they are highly efficient and achieve results. Improving efficiency and control of labour processes are the essences of Scientific Management.

In the early days of Taylorism or Scientific Management the way we worked was very different. Industrialised nations were producing more and more and consumerism was starting to take root creating higher demands on production managers.

Frederick Taylor responded with Taylorism but it was another man who took the principles of Scientific Management theory and applied them to a new industry: automobile production. This man was Henry Ford, credited with creating the worlds first production line / assembly line. Ford's implementation of the principles of Scientific Management were so successful that his model would come to be copied by almost every production facility around the world. Fords model of Scientific Management theory is often described as Fordism.

Model T Ford. One of the first examples of using the principles of Scientific Management for large industrial production techniques.
Model T Ford. One of the first examples of using the principles of Scientific Management for large industrial production techniques.

Scientific Management in the Retail Sector

If we take the example of a department store we can see that there is a clear division of tasks and responsibilities between the management team and shop floor staff. The task of the shop floor staff is to sell the products and to make profit for the store / company.

The management team’s responsibilities are to decide what the daily targets are for each department; to provide adequate staff coverage for each area; to make sure that staff are working hard to achieve the targets; to design the store’s layout to attract more customers; and to decide which brands need to be pushed and promoted.

Put simply, the management team decide what tasks need to be done and how they should be done, and the shop floor staff carry out these tasks under the management team’s supervision. The management team are in charge of controlling the shop floor staff and how the shop should be operated. There is a big hierarchy gap between the management and shop floor staff. This is the principles of Scientific Management in action.

Scientific Management in the Services Sector

In the West, the Services Sector has seen exponential growth over the last decade or so. Whilst jobs are being lost in many sectors all over the world, the Services Sector is seemingly creating and infinite supply - but there's one catch: these jobs are mostly low-wage, mostly low-skill, and mostly flexible-hours. Scientific Management is alive and kicking in the Services Sector.

McDonalds is a very good example of the adoption of Scientific Management in the services sector. The application of pure Taylorism has areas of solid growth, such as the McDonalds-type firm. One can identify four dimensions that lie at the heart of McDonalds are analysis; effiency of work design and task allocation; predictability and repetition; and tight control with little or no risk of error, which are exactly aligned to the principles of Scientific Management. The impact of Scientific Management is strongly felt in a McDonaldized society

Pure Taylorism

McDonalds is only one example; there are many other fast food restaurants that operate in the same way, using the principles of Taylor's Scientific Management theory. The fast food industry could be said to have been McDonaldized, as has many other parts of the Services Sector. Taylor’s Scientific Management is one of the important precursors that provided many of the basic principles on which fast-food restaurant chains have been built.

Scientific Management in Call Centres

Call Centre Worker, Scientific Management Principles
Call Centre Worker, Scientific Management Principles | Source

Scientific Management has also evolved with new technologies. Rather than these technologies replacing Scientific Management or making it redundant, the two have combined to make whole new industries. The Call Centre is a prime example of how the labour process has been re-written using the principles of Taylorism and Scientific Management and how the labour process is under closer and tighter control than ever before thanks to the uses of new technology.

Some observers and comentators have labelled the intensive monitoring and surveillance in call centres as ‘Big Brother’ management control. This highlights the repetitive tasks for call centre agents, the electronic surveillance and monitoring which creates total management control, the flat structure and restricted promotion opportunities which means pay is only attractive element of the job. Electronic monitoring systems and targets and automated performance triggers such as call durations, number of calls answered and tele-prompts are used to maximise the efficiency of the agents.

New technology plays a key role in today's workplace and, when aligned to the principles of and objectives of Scientific Management, continues to shape the way in which work is designed and managed. Certainly, in the Call Centre industry and in the Services Sector, Taylor’s Scientific Management still dominates the work design and employee (non) development.

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    • freeradicalsteve profile image


      7 years ago

      Great hub. In my opinion, Taylor's system of work organisation and goal accomoplishment has become a curse.

    • jabelufiroz profile image


      7 years ago from India

      Impressive hub on Scientific Management. Voted up.


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