Scientific Management Theory was created by Frederick Winslow Taylor in 1911 as a means of encouraging industrial companies to switch to mass production. With a background in mechanical engineering, he applied engineering principles to workplace productivity on the factory floor. Scientific Management Theory seeks to find the most efficient way of performing a job in the workplace.
Understanding Scientific Management Theory
In the early 20th century, there was also a general belief that workers were lazy and inefficient.
Taylor argued that the remedy for inefficiency was to be found in systematic management – there was no use trying to recruit men who had extraordinary work ethics.
Taylor was one of the first to look at productivity from a scientific standpoint, believing in universal laws that governed labor productivity and efficiency.
For this reason, “Taylorism” is often referred to as one of the first forms of scientific management.
Taylor’s classic assumptions about workers
Taylor’s belief that workers were only motivated by money provides the basis for several classic assumptions:
- Workers find their work unenjoyable and have a natural tendency to slack off in a process he called natural soldiering. To counter this tendency, they must be closely monitored and controlled.
- To increase worker investment in their job, it should be broken down into bite-sized actions.
- Training should be provided to all employees to create a standardized way of working.
- Workers should be paid based on how much they produce (piece rate). Taylor argued that this would create a win-win scenario where the employee would earn more money and the business would maximize its profits.
The four core principles of Scientific Management Theory
Taylor was perhaps a product of his time, viewing employee labor as an extension of machine labor.
He was also a strong proponent of autocratic leadership, which an increasing number of modern companies are shying away from.
However, his principles of scientific management are still relevant today.
Here is a look at each principle:
Select methods backed by science
Businesses should avoid giving workers the freedom to perform their jobs in any way they see fit.
The scientific method must be used to identify the single, most efficient way of doing the job.
Assign workers to jobs that match their aptitude
Instead of assigning workers to jobs at random, assign them to roles where their unique capabilities will allow them to work at peak efficiency.
Monitor worker performance
Monitor efficiency and ensure that necessary instruction is given on how to maintain productivity.
Divide the workload between management and staff
Here, roles and responsibilities should clearly be defined.
Management should train workers and workers should implement lessons learned.
Examples of modern companies employing Scientific Management Theory
Although slightly outdated, scientific management theory is useful in highly competitive industries where labor costs need to be kept as low as possible.
Example organizations include:
Amazon Case Study
where warehouse staff are paid on a piece-rate basis according to their level of productivity.
The company has also recently introduced patented wristbands that track employee performance in real-time.
McDonald’s Case Study
The homogenization of McDonald’s restaurants worldwide has meant that processes have had to become extremely refined.
The procedure for everything from making a burger to mopping the floor is the same – regardless of geographic location.
These processes are ultra-efficient and are broken down into actionable steps, which is a core component of Taylorism.
The aviation industry case study
Scientific management theory has played a pivotal role in the evolution of airport and airline management – a competitive, time-sensitive, and heavily regulated industry that requires companies to manage a multitude of different tasks.
Air New Zealand, for example, applied scientific management theory to its staff allocation and rostering systems over thirteen years between 1986 and 1999. Primarily, scientific management was used to address two core problems:
- The tours-of-duty (ToD) planning problem – where a sequence of flights must be constructed to crew the flight schedule. These sequences can comprise one-day periods of work but also encompass longer sequences spanning consecutive days with multiple flights and rest periods, and
- The rostering problem – where the airline has to match the ToD plan to individual employees to form a line of work (LoW) over a specific rostering period. In the process, airlines have to consider the employee’s skills or qualifications, employment contract conditions, operational rostering agreements, and any scheduled leave.
The role of management and crew
In aviation, the interaction of these problems can be considered from both the point of view of management and crew.
The management of Air New Zealand prefers maximum productivity and minimum-cost solutions that do not break laws and ensure all the work is performed.
They are also focused on the operational robustness of the schedule vis-à-vis sensitivity to disruptions.
For the Air New Zealand crew, on the other hand, the key concern is the quality of the solution.
What defines quality varies from one cohort to the next. Some consider the fair distribution of work to be important, while others hope to avoid arduous work patterns.
The importance of solving the aircrew-scheduling problem
Since aircraft and their associated crew are among the most expensive costs for an airline, their efficient utilization is vital to the company’s success and profitability.
Lured by the potential to reduce costs, history is littered with airlines who tried and failed to develop effective optimization methods.
But it was not until the 1980s that computational power became sufficiently advanced to solve the ToD problem.
Development of the model
In collaboration with the University of Auckland, Air New Zealand developed a total of 8 optimization-based systems. These systems, which were incorporated into the company’s database environment, solved all aspects of the planning and scheduling process across domestic and international routes.
One particular characteristic of these systems was that they presented solutions that exploited the rules. That is, the solutions were within the bounds of the law, made sense from a financial point of view, and were also beneficial for crew productivity and safety.
Air New Zealand also collaborated with NASA in its pioneering research on measuring fatigue, with the results subsequently added to the ToD systems as additional rules and constraints.
In dollar terms, scientific management theory allowed the airline to reduce the amount of money it spent on hotels, meals, and other expenses for crew who traveled overseas. The cost of constructing and maintaining the crewing system has also decreased over time.
Despite the company’s airline fleet and route structure increasing in size and complexity, the number of people Air New Zealand needed to employ to solve scheduling problems dropped from 27 in 1987 to just 15 in 2000.
At the time, conservative estimates put the total cost saving of the initiative at 15.655 million NZD per annum.
- Scientific Management Theory is a theory of management that seeks to analyze and synthesize workflow to improve labor productivity.
- Scientific Management Theory was originally based on the assumption that workers were only motivated by money and is heavily geared toward autocratic leadership styles. Nevertheless, it is still relevant to modern organizations.
- Scientific Management Theory is particularly effective in industries with a high prevalence of menial or repetitive tasks where costs need to be minimized. Examples include Amazon and McDonald’s.
What are the 4 Principles of Scientific Management?
The core principles of Scientific Management are:
What is the example of scientific management theory?
Cases of scientific management comprise companies like Amazon and McDonald’s, which have made defined business processes for inventory and fulfillment (Amazon) and fast food (McDonald’s) the core strengths of their organizations.
Connected Management Frameworks
Read Next: Change Management.
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