The Principles of Scientific Management

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Notes for L&S 160A

February 1, 2006

Frederick Winslow Taylor, The Principles of Scientific Management, 2nd Lecture, pp 27-75.

By Prof. Ken Goldberg (UC Berkeley) in course: Questioning Efficiency

-Be on the lookout for how Taylor uses scientific terms rhetorically

- example: The “Law” of heavy laboring (pg. 27)- the amount of rest that a worker will need depending on the weight the worker carries

-As though it were a physical law like the Law of Gravity

-It is important for the workers to pace themselves.

-But this cannot be left up to them.

-Supervisors must strictly and quantitatively regulate rest time.

-In the case of the Bethlehem Steel Co., 1 out of 8 workers could keep up with the pace dictated by scientific management, others were “reassigned” (but what really happened to them?)

-The level of sobriety among the workers increased (because the drinkers couldn’t keep up with the pace of the other workers).

-“Every single act of every worker can be reduced to a science.” (pg. 31).

Very bold claim!

-States that the “Optimal” wage increase is 60% (how did he “determine” this? Scientific??

-If the wages are increased more, the workers will become lazy.

-Frank and Lillian Gilbreth contemporaries, with 12 children “Cheaper by the Dozen”

- studied the science of bricklaying.

-They had 12 children and applied their motion studies to their own household.

-Introduced ambidexterity to bricklaying, special scaffolding to reduce lifting

-Reduced the number of motions for a bricklayer from 18 to 5 (and sometimes just 2).

-Also came up with a way to keep track of the number of bricks a bricklayer laid.

-Gilbreth emphasized motion, whereas Taylor emphasized time.

“Therblig” (Gilbreth spelled backward (almost)), a step of worker motion.
- Ball Bearing company, Taylor introduces the method of selecting workers based on their “personal coefficients.” (based on “new scientific studies” in universities)

-Optimal personal coefficient is low → fast reaction time.

-The selection of workers is crucial to the success of scientific management.

-Women and children are discussed for the first time in Taylor’s essay.

- made the women sit far apart so that they wouldn’t talk while working.

-Taylor states that men need to receive rewards every day, whereas women and children need to receive rewards every hour. (scientific?)

-Quantity vs. quality:

-Management ensured quality through random inspections (“scientific sampling”).

-They used quality control- inserted known quantities of flawed ball bearings to judge how accurately the women were working.

- Another example: Airport security testing with dummy suitcases

Keeps inspectors alert!

- Example, store sends in secret inspectors to observe how employees treat customers

What is Quality? (for Taylor: accuracy of inspection vs. number inspected)
In Engineering and Quality Control, “Quality” is related to number of defective parts, ratio of defective parts to total parts made: Six Sigma = fewer than 1 defect per million parts. But this is a rather odd use of the term “quality”….!
- Two (seemingly contradictory) kinds of quality:

1. Similarity of all products to each other.

2. Uniqueness of each product.
-Taylor lists 5 steps for conducting time and motion studies (pg. 61).

1. Get about 15 men who are skilled at the activity to be studied.

2. Study the motions and tools that the worker uses while working.

3. Time each motion with a stopwatch and choose the quickest method for each action.

4. Get rid of all unnecessary motions.

5. Formally define the best method and tools in writing

-Taylor’s claim: there is one best way to do every action and that is dictated by science.

-Alternative to “differential pay” pay proportional to output:

The “task and bonus system”- The management sets a daily quota for the work to be done

and gives a bonus to the workers who hit it. (binary)

-This eliminates paperwork because it is not a sliding scale. It is binary → the workers either get a bonus or do not.
-Taylor anticipates concerns that the worker will feel like an automaton or “wooden man” (pg. 65):

- Not at all! : Taylor likens the worker to a surgeon:

being carefully trained down to minute motions, with optimal tools, is good!.


- example: Hernia Factory, group of Canadian doctors who only operate on hernia patients use routine procedures and “assembly line” style: have very high efficiency:

is this a bad thing?? (seems preferable for patients!)

Specialization vs Standardization (Dreyfus)
deskilling”: reducing worker skills, a term used by opponents of Taylorism.
-Taylor lists 12 elements of scientific management . (pgs. 67-68).

including several not discussed in this book:

- Eg: creating mnemonics for products and tools, having a routing system, etc
Scientific management consists of a mental attitude: “a certain philosophy”- so, it is not just a group of discrete actions/choices.
-At the end of his essay, Taylor seems defensive (perhaps based on criticism from Congress).

-He stresses the importance of workers, management, and a third beneficiary: the public.

He states that the public will get the most from his system because there will be more goods in circulation, prices will drop, etc.

-The public will also serve as a moral compass.

-Scientific management should take 4 or 5 years to implement.

-If not, the company will have “troubles, strikes, and failure.” (? See below)

-Taylor ends his essay by refusing to list any companies that use his system, instead, inviting anyone who is “sufficiently interested in scientific management” to come to his house to discuss it…(strange!).
The One Best Way: The Enigma of Efficiency by Robert Kanigel (Viking 1997)

- Biography of Taylor

In the 1890’s Taylor was hugely successful at developing new patents and formulas for high speed metal cutting/milling/lathing: (speeds, temperatures, angles, shapes, coolants, etc)

Taylor analyzed the variables that went into high-speed metal cutting- found optimal formulae, patented them, and got rich from it.

-suggesting: his confidence came from the scientific approach to tools, not workers.


-Taylor’s contemporaries included: Gantt, Gilbreth, Barth, but they did not like him.

-Taylor was hotheaded.
-In 1901, Taylor was fired from Bethlehem Steel Co.

-Andrew Carnegie later bought the company and eliminated all aspects of scientific management.

- Taylor’s essay, The Principles of Scientific Management came out in 1911, ten years

later, but never mentions this!!

-In 1910, Congress passed the Mann-Elkins Act which ruled that railroads must justify their freight rates.

-A court case ensued- Attorney Louis Brandeis challenged railroad tycoons using Taylor’s arguments about efficiency.

Interstate Commerce Committee agrees (1911)

-This made Taylor more famous and both he and Brandeis heroes (1911).

-Taylorism produced strikes at the Watertown Arsenal in 1912

“Men balk at ‘spy’ system.” (headline)

Taylor was then asked to testify to Congress about his methods: why? There was great for causing labor unrest (his facts were loose and his claims not all scientific).

-Both Samuel Gompers and Upton Sinclair spoke out against Taylor and his system.

“Taylorism removes the head of the worker.” - Gompers

“Nothing is so restful as variety”. (p 444)

-Somewhat ostracized, Taylor went into seclusion, and died in 1915.
-Taylorism did not disappear: Lenin, Trotsky, Germans, and Mussolini were advocates of Taylor’s ideas. Stalin (Soviet 5 year plans, etc.),

-There were elements of scientific management in Nazism.

-Hitler awarded Henry Ford a medal.

-It is important to question Taylor’s ideas and convincing rhetoric.

-Back to the case of the Canadian hernia factory…

-Are these doctors successful? Are they respected? Is there room for ingenuity and originality?

“I would prefer to go to a doctor who specializes in hernias”.
-HMO’s also have fixed standards, limits on payments, time with patients.
An analogy: “No Child Left Behind” program: Today’s K-12 teachers must adhere to strict curricula and quantitative tests: Taylorizing K-12 education: → What kind of teachers result from this method? By standardizing does it damage the esteem/skills of teachers? Will it discourage creative people from going into teaching as a profession? Ina nutshell, NCLB “levels” all children to same level, brings up poor students but holds back good ones…
-In the field, standardized methods are often weaker than originality and flexibility.

-ex.: Boxers with only one style (often lose to street fighters).

-ex.: The Marines teaches soldiers skills but allows flexibility. This allows the soldiers to maintain a certain amount of autonomy over their actions.
-Standardization when the environment is complex/uncertain

-ex. Was there only one way to get food to Katrina victims?

- in some cases, what is most efficient does not allow for originality.

-Wal-Mart workers (Walmart and Taylorism).

-“Mattel designed the M-16” (easily assembled guns), (this is an urban legend, false)
-Two Different Aspects (inspired by the Hernia Factory example - Dreyfus):
1. Standardization – workers forced to respond the same way to every situation


2. Specialization – workers focus in on one specialty: within that there is in fact more room for focus and thus in turn for flexibility/creativity. Workers can respond appropriately to each unique situation

-Taylorism stresses standardization, but may also be compatible with Specialization.


A factory worker with a menial job is not necessarily dehumanized: he or she might simply “tune out” during work. - identity is not lost, just deferred.

Suggestion from student:
standardization aligned with the modern style?

Treat everything the same “one best way”: modernist efficiency

specialization aligned with the postmodern style?

Respond to each unique situation, postmodernist efficiency, expertise.

Postmodern allows more flexibility, more choices. People get to choose their specialty!

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