Scientific Management in Organizations Research Paper Starter

Scientific Management in Organizations

(Research Starters)

Scientific management is a school of management thought founded by American engineer Frederick W. Taylor in the early twentieth century. Scientific management involves studying jobs to break them down into their component tasks through time and motion studies (the analysis of complex tasks to determine their component parts and the concomitant time required to perform each part). This information allows analysts to determine the most efficient way of performing tasks and pay employees on a piece rate basis to encourage them to adopt these methods. Scientific management emphasizes the "scientific" analysis of jobs and tasks in order to determine the one best way to accomplish these. In addition, scientific management emphasizes the training of individuals to do these tasks and the publication of standards, goals, and methods as well as inspection to make sure that these are being implemented. Scientific management also encourages cooperation of management and employees and the use of special incentives to improve performance. Although scientific management is not in use today as an entire system, it has set the foundations for many of the sound practices still used in business organizations in the twenty-first century.

Keywords Globalization; Industrialization; Innovation; Job Analysis; Job Description; Management; Motivation; Organization; Postmodernism; Return on Investment (ROI); Scientific Management; Scientific Method; Time & Motion Study; Turnover

Social Interaction in Groups

Scientific Management in Organizations


It would be tempting to think that the management problems associated with industrialization are unique to our era. However, the truth is that for thousands of years, people have been organizing and managing other people in order to accomplish great tasks. Although the tools of the twenty-first century are different from those that came before, the need to be able to effectively manage others in order to accomplish large tasks has been going on for not only centuries, but even millennia. For example, the Egyptian pyramids are considered one of the seven wonders of the ancient world and are an engineering feat still unsurpassed today, yet were accomplished without modern machinery. In part, this means that great numbers of people were required to work in a coordinated effort in order to accomplish their tasks. Similarly, the Coliseum of ancient Rome was built to hold between 40,000 and 60,000 people, an engineering feat unrivaled until the twentieth century. In many ways, these feats put the management problems of the twenty-first century into perspective.

However, businesses are still concerned with the effective management of employees in order to gain or maintain a competitive edge in today's global environment. Although lowering prices is one option to do this, if the organization does not realize sufficient return on investment, it will not be able to remain in business. Except for the occasional loss leader that is offered in order to entice new customers, for the most part, there are typically certain price limits below which an organization cannot offer its goods or services and still be able to maintain a profit: Equipment must be maintained, the payroll must be met, products or services must be advertised, and raw materials or components must be purchased. Although in theory, building a better mousetrap can cause the world to be a path to one's door, in actuality, the innovation process frequently cannot be rushed, and the organization must continue to sell the product or service that it already has. As a result, therefore, many organizations focus on management as a way to improve effectiveness, efficiency, and profitability. In theory, this approach can allow an organization to maximize its profits by getting its employees to work smarter, harder, or both.

Management as a Tool

Although we may never know the management principles used by the ancient Egyptians or Romans (and they may not be applicable centuries later even if we did), the idea of using management as a tool to improve the organization's effectiveness is not a new one even over the past few centuries. For example, in his 1776 book "The Wealth of Nations," Adam Smith discussed the division of labor in a pin factory. Factory managers of that era adapted what they considered to be rational procedures for increasing the efficiency of the workers in their factories. As the industrialization wore on, however, and demand of manufactured products increased, engineers and managers started to increasingly focus on the task of improving employee performance and productivity as a way to improve the overall efficiency and concomitant viability of the organization.

One of the leading figures in this area was Frederick Winslow Taylor, an American engineer who started the school of management thought referred to as scientific management or Taylorism. Taylor believed that his management system was scientific because he gathered, classified, and tabulated data about worker's jobs and, through deductive reasoning, reduced these to general laws and principles that could be used to improve the productivity of the individual worker. Further, Taylor proposed that management takes on a number of additional duties including developing a "science" for each element of a person's work, scientifically selecting and training workers best suited for a given job, cooperating fully with the workers in order to support them in their efforts to increase productivity, and relieving workers of duties for which management was better suited.


Proponents of scientific management posit that despite the fact different people tend to do things in different ways, there is actually only one best way to perform each task. To determine what the best way of performing a task was, the proponents of scientific management performed time and motion studies, in which complex tasks are analyzed to determine their component parts and the concomitant time required to perform each part. Under the concept of scientific management, the major goal of time and motion studies was to determine the one best way to perform a task and teach this to the employees performing the task in order to minimize waste and maximize output. Time and motion studies are also used to set performance goals, support pricing and pay decisions, and reduce employee fatigue or reduce accidents. Scientific management also assumed that the primary motivator for most workers was money or other economic rewards, and that productivity is constrained only by the physical limitations of the human being performing the work. Based on these assumptions and techniques, scientific management attempted to maximize human productivity through the application of scientific planning (e.g., based on time and motion studies), established performance standards, and close supervision of employees. The emphasis in this approach appears to be on the needs of the organization and how to motivate workers to meet these needs (with the assumption that this can primarily be done only through economic incentives) without regard for what the workers themselves need or want. However, Taylor believed that the interests of employers and employees were the same. Employers wanted lower labor costs and employees wanted higher wages. By determining the best way to maximize productivity, the employee could work hard and meet his/her needs and the needs of the employer would be met as well. For example, Taylor analyzed the job of a pig-iron handler and introduced rest periods and close supervision of employees. As a result of the application of the principles of scientific management, Taylor was able to help a pig iron handler increase the amount of pig iron an employee loaded per day from 12.5 tons to 47.5 tons (i.e., 280%). This also allowed the pig iron handler to increase his salary from $1.15 per day to $1.85 (i.e., 61%) (Blum & Naylor, 1968).

The Scalar Principle

In addition to emphasizing the need to determine the best way to perform each task and requiring each employee to perform that task in that manner, there are a number of other principles of scientific management. One of these is the scalar principle. This principle emphasizes chain of command and the clear reporting structure so that each person in the organization knows to whom s/he reports and supervises. Another aspect of the scalar principle is that decisions need to be made as close to the process as possible rather than by executives or others higher in the organizational structure who do not understand the process or task well enough to make the decision. Scientific management also emphasizes unity of command. This principle means that each individual reports to only one supervisor and responsibilities within the organization are not duplicated or overlapping among multiple employees. A corollary to...

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