What is Scientific Management Theory? Scientific Management Theory In A Nutshell

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:

  1. 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
  2. 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.

Key takeaways

  • 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.

Key Highlights

  • Origin and Background: Scientific Management Theory was developed by Frederick Winslow Taylor in 1911. It aimed to improve industrial productivity through the application of engineering principles to the workplace. Taylor believed in finding the most efficient ways of performing tasks.
  • Worker Perceptions: In the early 20th century, there was a perception that workers were lazy and inefficient. Taylor’s theory aimed to address this by optimizing work processes.
  • Efficiency and Systematic Management: Taylor believed that inefficiency could be addressed through systematic management rather than relying on recruiting individuals with extraordinary work ethics. He emphasized the need for scientific analysis to identify the most efficient ways of performing tasks.
  • Taylorism: Taylor’s approach is often referred to as Taylorism. He believed in universal laws governing labor productivity and efficiency, and he introduced principles to optimize work processes.
  • Assumptions About Workers: Taylor’s classic assumptions included that workers found work unenjoyable, had a tendency to slack off (natural soldiering), and needed close monitoring and control. He believed in breaking down tasks into manageable actions and providing standardized training.
  • Piece-Rate Payment: Taylor advocated for paying workers based on their production, creating a win-win situation where employees earned more and businesses maximized profits.
  • Core Principles: Taylor’s principles include selecting methods based on science, matching workers to suitable roles, monitoring worker performance, and clearly defining roles and responsibilities between management and staff.
  • Modern Relevance: Although Taylorism is outdated in some aspects, its principles are still relevant, especially in industries where labor costs need to be minimized. Examples include Amazon and McDonald’s.
  • Amazon Case Study: Amazon uses piece-rate payment for warehouse staff based on productivity and employs real-time performance tracking technology.
  • McDonald’s Case Study: McDonald’s homogenized processes globally, ensuring consistency and efficiency in tasks like burger preparation and cleaning.
  • Aviation Industry Case Study (Air New Zealand): The aviation industry has applied Scientific Management Theory to crew scheduling and planning, achieving cost savings and efficiency improvements.
  • Air New Zealand’s Collaboration: Air New Zealand collaborated with the University of Auckland and NASA to develop optimization-based systems for crew scheduling, reducing costs and increasing efficiency.
  • Benefits of Scientific Management: The theory has been successful in optimizing processes, reducing costs, improving efficiency, and aligning worker capabilities with tasks.
  • Application and Limitations: Scientific Management Theory is effective in industries with repetitive tasks but may not fully accommodate the complexities of modern work environments.
  • Autocratic Leadership: Taylor’s approach is associated with autocratic leadership, which may not align with modern leadership trends emphasizing empowerment and collaboration.
  • Key Takeaways: Scientific Management Theory focuses on improving labor productivity through systematic analysis of work processes. It’s applicable in industries where repetitive tasks require optimization, and its principles are still relevant today.

What are the 4 Principles of Scientific Management?

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

Change Management


Change Management

Change is an important and necessary fact of life for all organizations. But change is often unsuccessful because the people within organizations are resistant to change. Change management is a systematic approach to managing the transformation of organizational goals, values, technologies, or processes.

Kotter’s 8-Step Change Model

Harvard Business School professor Dr. John Kotter has been a thought-leader on organizational change, and he developed Kotter’s 8-step change model, which helps business managers deal with organizational change. Kotter created the 8-step model to drive organizational transformation.

McKinsey’s Seven Degrees

McKinsey’s Seven Degrees of Freedom for Growth is a strategy tool. Developed by partners at McKinsey and Company, the tool helps businesses understand which opportunities will contribute to expansion, and therefore it helps to prioritize those initiatives.

McKinsey 7-S Model

The McKinsey 7-S Model was developed in the late 1970s by Robert Waterman and Thomas Peters, who were consultants at McKinsey & Company. Waterman and Peters created seven key internal elements that inform a business of how well positioned it is to achieve its goals, based on three hard elements and four soft elements.

Lewin’s Change Management

Lewin’s change management model helps businesses manage the uncertainty and resistance associated with change. Kurt Lewin, one of the first academics to focus his research on group dynamics, developed a three-stage model. He proposed that the behavior of individuals happened as a function of group behavior.


The ADKAR model is a management tool designed to assist employees and businesses in transitioning through organizational change. To maximize the chances of employees embracing change, the ADKAR model was developed by author and engineer Jeff Hiatt in 2003. The model seeks to guide people through the change process and importantly, ensure that people do not revert to habitual ways of operating after some time has passed.

Force-Field Analysis

Social psychologist Kurt Lewin developed the force-field analysis in the 1940s. The force-field analysis is a decision-making tool used to quantify factors that support or oppose a change initiative. Lewin argued that businesses contain dynamic and interactive forces that work together in opposite directions. To institute successful change, the forces driving the change must be stronger than the forces hindering the change.

Business Innovation Matrix

Business innovation is about creating new opportunities for an organization to reinvent its core offerings, revenue streams, and enhance the value proposition for existing or new customers, thus renewing its whole business model. Business innovation springs by understanding the structure of the market, thus adapting or anticipating those changes.

Posci Change Management

According to Prosci founder Jeff Hiatt, the secret to successful change “lies beyond the visible and busy activities that surround change. Successful change, at its core, is rooted in something much simpler: how to facilitate change with one person.”

Read Next: Change Management.

Main Free Guides:

About The Author

Scroll to Top