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Let me caution you before commenting on this book. Most people who refer to Taylor and Scientific Management have not read Taylor, but about Taylor in secondary sources. So, forget what you have heard about Taylor. Keep an open mind.
Prior to Taylor, management tried to create output by providing incentives to workers. But pressure from peers kept workers from doing more work. Everyone agreed that this would lead to fewer jobs.
The virtuous cycle of higher performance, lower prices, more sales, and higher pay for workers and shareholders was not yet uncovered.
Taylor sees the results of the higher productivity mostly being of help to consumers, with the remainder of the benefit split between shareholders and workers. In that he was prescient. Advanced thinkers today are rediscovering this old truth, first elaborated by Taylor.
What I found to be delightful in the book was the emphasis on trying to approach the ideal practice, rather than being satisfied with the best of today.
Here are the key principles for your reference:
(1) develop a science for each element of a task to determine the most productive way to do that task (quality and quantity considered in terms of total costs)
(2) scientifically select and train those who can do the task the most effectively in what needs to be done, and provide all of the help they need
(3) create an environment where the person doing the task can be productive (this often involves systems limitations, like input from others)
(4) management has a role in designing the work, selecting workers who are ideal for the work, and helping the work be learned properly. There is an equal division between the worker and management in creating the right result.
In reading this list, I am reminded of Bill Jensen's new book, Simplicity, in which he calls for something rather similar to the broad concepts of Scientific Management. So although many people consider almost all existing management Taylorian, a closer examination would say that management is not doing its job.
The basic problem with Scientific Management was not that it was flawed, but that it took slow long to do that it was impractical to try too many experiments. The time and measurement experiments took forever. The calculations of multivariate problems were hard to solve in precomputer days. The change process was slow (usually 3-5 years).
The experiments that we all know about and applaud now (team-based learning and self-directed work teams, TQM, reengineering, and so forth) could have been addressed by the Scientific Management method as soon as the limitations described above could be lifted.
As a result, I think it is incorrect to be pro TQM or reengineering and anti Scientific Management. I believe that the basic principles are more compatible than not.
At some point, all of this becomes merely philosophical. I think you will find the case studies in the book revealing about what the potential for improvement can be in tasks that people have been doing for centuries (like laying bricks).
I was impressed that Taylor was so good at locating stalls of disbelief, misconception, communication, and bureaucracy. He had a keen sense of where mental models were wrong, and how to bust those stalls. In fact, he may have been the 19th century's first business stallbuster.
I highly recommend this book to anyone who is interested in understanding more about how measurements can be useful to identifying ways to improve performance for all of society.
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am 5. März 2005
No doubt, Taylor had great influence on the development of Management as both a practice and a scientific discipline and "Principles of Scientific Management" is a brilliant book. It's historical value cannot be underestimated and it's principles are still present in many modern theories (e.g. operations research and principal agent models) as well as in the minds of managers.
However, only 4 stars only to remind you of it's ambiguous implications for actual application. One should carefully keep in mind that Scientific Management evolved at the time of the beginnings of modern industrial mass-production. The technical, economical and social circumstances at the time were quite different from today's. Management, in particular motivational and organzational theory and practice, has greatly advanced since then. One should beware of naivly adopting Tayler's concepts nowadays as they would simply fail under circumstances of increasingly complex environments, as countless research proved.
Nevertheless, Taylor's analysis and guidelines still prove very useful for running "stable" businesses (as e.g. running a fast-food outlet) and if one adds the recognition that people are no pure economical men and are therefore motivated also by other incentives than purely economical ones, his recommendations may still bring great insights.
I recommend "Principles of Scientific Management" to everybody seriously interested in the foundations of modern management theory (along of course with books like Marx' "The capital", Friedman's "Freedom and Capitalism, Smith's "Wealth of nations" and Keynes "General Theory of Employment, Interest, and Money") and for understanding the paradigms still underlying the tinking of countless modern managers.
am 2. Januar 1999
When Frederick Taylor wrote his paper in 1911, "The Principles of Scientific Management," it would appear to be the way to go in managing and motivating people. At least, that would be lessons taught in our education system, thus his rhetoric would echo the halls of many of our business schools as the gospel of economics.
I would learn otherwise, once I got out into the real world and would be handed the responsibility of managing personnel. I would learn very quickly that 'Taylorism' is not the answer; the principles of management taught by the late Dr. Edwards Deming is 'the only way to go.'
Taylor spoke about rewarding good men (employees). This bit of mandate called for scoring and ranking workers. Now, how can one "compare" someone who is really good at a given task against someone who is good at another task? These two individuals may well be very good at what they do; however, it quite often requires a mix of these talents to produce a quality product or service.
To deal with those who slack off, you hire the best and set a high-standard pass-fail system. I've been on teams where I was considered to be the best and if I had slacked off, I would have been thrown off the team (and essentially let go). It takes a lot of management know how by people who'd worked the production floor for years to implement this team leadership.
Another problem with grading is that it becomes a popularity contest. If a teacher or supervisor likes you, they grade easy on you; otherwise, you're out of luck. So much for totem-pole integrity.
So there's a time and place for everything. In order for you as an entity to compete in the marketplace, you must have your employees collaborating to present the best solutions. To enhance the rewarding effects of teamwork, provide the workforce a form of profit/loss share such as stock options. Should everyone do their part and it leads to a successful business, everyone wins.
As depicted in the movie "Hoosiers," Coach Normal Dale stripped the super-egos of the high school basketball squad down to nothing and rebuilt it as a team. He said it twice in the film: "Team. Team. Team. No one is more important than the other." Based on a true story, the small-town team would win the Indiana Championship in 1951.
Yes, as perpetuated by the late Dr. Deming, it's a rich blend of individualism (those who are challenged by team mates to excel to all heights) and teamwork (those who can take their rich talent and make it function as a competitive unit). That to me is sheer capitalism in its finest hour.
For Mr. Taylor, his paper would become a 20th century boondoggle. Already, reports by economists suggest that developing nations are looking to Deming as the real only way to go. We either get on the bandwagon, or be left behind in the new economic dust.
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am 4. Mai 1999
After you've weeded the TQM books from your management shelves, get some real management advice from the man who invented the concept of added-value service. Some of his ideas wouldn't stand the test of time, but the idea that you can add quality to a product is an essential truth.