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Scientific management


Scientific management is a theory of management that analyzes and synthesizes workflows. Its main objective is improving economic efficiency, especially labor productivity. It was one of the earliest attempts to apply science to the engineering of processes to management. Scientific management is sometimes known as Taylorism after its founder, Frederick Winslow Taylor.

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 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.

Emerson's testimony in late 1910 to the Interstate Commerce Commission brought the movement to national attention and instigated serious opposition. Emerson contended the railroads might save $1,000,000 a day by paying greater attention to efficiency of operation. By January 1911, a leading railroad journal began a series of articles denying they were inefficiently managed.

Taylor's death in 1915 at age 59 left the movement without its original leader. In management literature today, the term "scientific management" mostly refers to the work of Taylor and his disciples ("classical", implying "no longer current, but still respected for its seminal value") in contrast to newer, improved iterations of efficiency-seeking methods. Today, task-oriented optimization of work tasks is nearly ubiquitous in industry.

Taylor rejected the notion, which was universal in his day and still held today, that the trades, including manufacturing, were resistant to analysis and could only be performed by craft production methods. In the course of his empirical studies, Taylor examined various kinds of manual labor. For example, most bulk materials handling was manual at the time; material handling equipment as we know it today was mostly not developed yet. He looked at shoveling in the unloading of railroad cars full of ore; lifting and carrying in the moving of iron pigs at steel mills; the manual inspection of bearing balls; and others. He discovered 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, either physical (as in shoveling or lifting) or mental (as in the ball inspection case). Workers were allowed to take more rests during work, and productivity increased as a result.

Taylor observed that some workers were more talented than others, and that even smart ones were often unmotivated. He observed that most workers who are forced to perform repetitive tasks tend to work at the slowest rate that goes unpunished. This slow rate of work has been observed in many industries and many countries and has been called by various terms. Taylor used the term "soldiering", a term that reflects the way conscripts may approach following orders, and observed that, when paid the same amount, workers will tend to do the amount of work that the slowest among them does. Taylor describes soldiering as "the greatest evil with which the working-people ... are now afflicted".

Though not foreseen by early proponents of scientific management, detailed decomposition and documentation of an optimal production method also makes automation of the process easier, especially physical processes that would later use industrial control systems and numerical control. Widespread economic globalization also creates opportunity for outsourced to lower-wage areas, with knowledge transfer made easier if an optimal method is already clearly documented. Especially when wages or wage differentials are high, automation and offshoring can result in significant productivity gains and similar questions of who benefits and whether or not technological unemployment is persistent. Because automation is often best suited to tasks that are repetitive and boring, and can also be used for tasks that are dirty, dangerous, and demeaning, proponents believe that in the long run it will free up human workers for more creative, safer, and more enjoyable work.

By the 1950s, scientific management had grown dated, but its goals and practices remained attractive and were also being adopted by the German Democratic Republic as it sought to increase efficiency in its industrial sectors. Workers engaged in a state-planned instance of process improvement, pursuing the same goals that were contemporaneously pursued in capitalist societies, as in the Toyota Production System.

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. He and a partner won a national championship in doubles tennis. 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).