Management Theory, Process-Centered: Frederick Taylor and Scientific Management (Theory X)


Management Theory, Process-Centered: Frederick Taylor and Scientific Management (Theory X)

Frederick Taylor's accomplishment is the most powerful as well as the most lasting contribution America has made to Western thought since the Federalist Papers.

—Peter Drucker, The Practice of Management, 1954

"Scientific," or process-centered, management theory begins with Frederick Taylor (1856–1915), a brilliant engineer at the turn of the last century who invented not only the modern professions of performance improvement and management consulting, but also time management and process-centered systems engineering. Starting in the 1880s and working with such industrial giants of the time as Bethlehem Steel, Taylor pioneered time-and-motion studies in order to streamline processes on the assembly lines and improve performance in the shops and work yards. The scientific aspect of his process reengineering consisted of dividing tasks into their smallest subcomponents, and then enforcing strict performance specifications for each task, as well as gearing the system's tools to support the task as well.

Unfortunately many of Taylor's principles would be pushed aside in the 1930s by the "human relations" movement of Kurt Lewin and Elton Mayo, and in the 1950s by Abraham Maslow and Carl Rogers—all of them forerunners of organizational development. Not until the 1980s does Taylor's heritage surface again in Deming's Total Quality Management (TQM) movement and in the 1990s with Hammer's process reengineering. Today, Taylor's scientific ideas (dubbed Theory X by McGregor) are best viewed as being complementary to the humanist theories of organizational development (McGregor's own Theory Y), for the rigor of Taylor's systems engineering approach needs to be balanced out by the people-centered strategies of OD. Each theory stands in need of the other, and both benefit from their fusion. When viewed in this larger light, Taylor, as Peter Drucker has emphasized, stands out as one of the great masters of twentieth-century management theory and practice.

Fastpaths

1903

Frederick Taylor's Shop Management appears, an early version of his later 1911 work, The Principles of Scientific Management. Addresses the systems side of manufacturing organizations, prescribing breaking out system operations into component subprocesses and tasks for subsequent analysis and performance improvement.

1908

Harvard Business School is founded, and proclaims Taylor's scientific management theory as "the new revolution."

1911

Frederick Taylor's Principles of Scientific Management appears. The book lays out a process-centered systems engineering model for the industrial age, including time and motion studies. As a pioneer of scientific management, Taylor is often denounced as rigid and authoritarian (particularly by those who have not actually read him), but this is a misconception, as the very opening statement of his book indicates: "The principal object of management should be to secure the maximum prosperity for the employer coupled with maximum prosperity for each employee." Taylor goes on to describe the four major elements of his scientific management:

  1. Engineering of processes

  2. Appropriate training and development

  3. Cooperation of management with employees to ensure quality

  4. An equal division of work and responsibility between management and employees

Moreover, Taylor's gap analyses—looking for the differential between "what is" and "what ought to be"—foreshadows by a century what performance improvement systems are accomplishing today. At a slender 140 pages, Taylor's book packs more punch than many modern management books three times its size. Nor do you have to agree with the book in order to benefit enormously.

1916

Henri Fayol: General and Industrial Management. French management theorist. Together with the American Frederick Taylor, known as "fathers of modern management." Formulates five functions of management: Plan, Organize, Command, Coordinate, and Control.

1923

Frank Copley: Frederick W. Taylor: Father of Scientific Management. A family-sanctioned biography, so needs to be read carefully, but extremely useful details.

1954

Peter Drucker: The Practice of Management, 1954. Praises Taylor as one of the great thinkers of the modern corporate world.

1976

Peter Drucker: "The Coming Rediscovery of Scientific Management" in The Conference Board Record (June 1976, pp. 23–27). Drucker views Taylor as one of the great makers of the modern corporate world.

1980

D. Nelson: Frederick W. Taylor and the Rise of Scientific Management.

1987

Marvin Weisbord: Productive Workplaces. Very readable history of management theory, including two chapters on Taylor and scientific management, with an interesting exposition of the surprisingly close affinities between Taylor's scientific management and McGregor's later human relations management in the 1960s.

1991

Stephen Waring: Taylorism Transformed: Scientific Management Theory Since 1945.

1991

Charles Wrege and R. Greenwood: Frederick W. Taylor: The Father of Scientific Management.

1997

Robert Kanigel: The One Best Way: Frederick Winslow Taylor and the Enigma of Efficiency. Superlative modern biography of Taylor, viewing him, as Peter Drucker had, as the source of our continuing focus in the twenty-first century on performance improvement, efficiency, and effectiveness in organizations.

See also Management Theory, People-Centered Reengineering Total Quality Management