Tuesday, March 16, 2010

The Ghost of Frederick Winslow Taylor, Part 4

Last time we saw the Utopian glimmer Taylor thought his vision of scientific management offered. Let's wrap that up and get to the Agile connection this time.

In his cold, raspy, ethereal voice, Taylor's ghost asserts that scientific management gives both workers and management what both groups most want, viz., high wages and low per-piece labor costs (cf. p 93). He goes on to say that workers "should" be encouraged and allowed to propose new and better methods of working, which after adequate study and experimentation, management may choose to adopt as the new standard for a given task. The individual worker who proposed the new method "should" receive full credit for the innovation and be paid a cash bonus as a reward (cf. p. 128). Taylor is unable to provide an answer to the question of just how exactly any worker, bound up by the rigid work rules and defined pace scientific management imposes, could ever have the opportunity even to think of a better way of performing a work task. Even worse, management is under no obligation to allow workers to experiment with alternative ways of working.

Taylor wraps up his case with yet another Utopian flourish. First, he states that the new division of duties between labor and management along with "intimate, friendly cooperation" ensures labor peace (cf. p. 140). And finally, scientific management, by dramatically increasing wages ends the wage problem. Even more, the close, constant, and intimate cooperation (there's that formula yet again) between management and labor produces a commonality of interest that makes labor strife impossible. The broader benefits that result are reduction in poverty (through high wages), cheaper products, and better competitiveness even during economic downturns, resulting in minimal economic dislocation (cf. pp. 143-44).

Those are bold statements, but they are -- and always were -- as ethereal as the ghost who continues to assert their validity. First off, Taylor never had any evidence to support his Utopian vision of labor-management cooperation and perpetual peace. Labor strife did not end as scientific management spread. Indeed, scientific management simply escalated the labor-management war by giving management a potent weapon to use against labor. Secondly, he simply ignored the greed and lust for power that characterize the owners and managers of capitalist enterprises. Scientific management came into widespread use and indeed is still at least implicit in the vast majority of businesses of all types.

Taylor provided the theoretical basis for management to remove every shred of the workers' control over the work they were doing. He took away their tools, their knowledge and expertise, and their genius for self-organization and replaced them with rigid command-and-control structures that governed every aspect of work. His predictions of huge increases in productivity, the one aspect of scientific management for which he had good data, were indeed realized. High wages did not follow, however. Industrial management realized that they could realize vastly higher profits by reducing their workforces by the 80-90% Taylor forecast. As scientific management spread rapidly throughout the US economy, high unemployment became the norm, making it very easy for management to use scientific management to squeeze high productivity from workers while offering only the threat of replacement as an incentive to stay in their increasingly oppressive jobs. Henry Ford's famous doubling of his workers' wages in 1914 was short-lived: a stockholder rebellion and resulting lawsuit forced wages back down.

So where's the long-awaited Agile connection, you might ask (I'm sure you are)? Easy. Taylor was wrong. Scientific management, with its heavy handed, command-and-control work methods, stifled innovation by making it impossible for the people actually doing the work to contribute to the development of new and better products. Agile frees this most important source of innovative thinking from the bonds of rigid work rules and suffocating management oversight. Companies haunted by the ghost of Frederick Winslow Taylor stagnate and are unable to adapt to the rapidly changing economic conditions that are now the rule rather than the exception.

Chase Taylor's ghost from your building -- and from your mind. Take advantage of the power of self-organization. Win in the market by being adaptable, by drawing upon the power of innovation that comes with building teams of motivated individuals and trusting them to get the job done. It's long past time for Taylor's ghost and his century old prescriptions to be laid to rest.

All for now....


Taylor, Frederick Winslow, The Principles of Scientific Management. New York & London: Harper, 1911, reprint edition, 1934.

Monday, March 8, 2010

The Ghost of Frederick Winslow Taylor, Part 3

Last time, the ghost of F.W. Taylor told us about management-labor cooperation and gave us a hint of his Utopian vision. Today, he's still going on about cooperation and how it is to be achieved. Let's listen in....

Since scientific management requires companies to define each task to the finest detail, there must be a massive expansion of management activity going on as well. And indeed, that is the case. According to Taylor, scientific management requires the establishment of a large and elaborate management structure to plan the work of each worker at least a day in advance, record each worker’s output, train each worker as needed for each task, keep and issue necessary tools each day, etc (cf. p. 70). Whereas previously, workers had provided their own tools, expertise, and initiative, now all three of those categories would fall strictly under the control of the new, massively expanded management.

Achieving maximum output requires cooperation, but no individual worker has the authority to require peers to cooperate in that effort. Only management has that power. Therefore,

“It is only through enforced standardization of methods, enforced adoption of the best implements and working conditions, and enforced cooperation that this faster work can be assured. And the duty of enforcing the adoption of standards and of enforcing this cooperation rests with the management alone.” (cf. p. 83. Original emphasis)

Management must train all workers and dismiss those who are unable to meet the required work pace after training. Management must also recognize that workers will not submit to rigid task standardization and faster pace of work unless they receive a substantial increase in pay in return. And finally, all four components of scientific management must be applied in order to realize the promised results (see the previous post in this series).

This is beginning to sound less and less Utopian, despite Taylor's repeated and plaintive calls for dramatic wage increases after the adoption of scientific management.

Next time we'll drive a stake through the heart of Taylor's Utopian daydream and examine the consequences of his ideas.

All for now....


Taylor, Frederick Winslow, The Principles of Scientific Management. New York & London: Harper, 1911, reprint edition, 1934.

Friday, March 5, 2010

The Ghost of Frederick Winslow Taylor, Part 2

In our last installment, we heard Taylor state that cooperation between management and workers was the essence of scientific management. Now it's time to query him about what scientific management actually is. So here we go....

The new role of management under scientific management is to provide task-level standardization of methods to achieve maximum efficiency from each worker. In return for vastly increased productivity, workers must receive 30-100% increase in wages or else they will simply not agree to work in a new way. With management taking on half the burden of the work, in the form of task-level planning, and the increase in pay, labor-management relations will be automatically close and cordial (cf. p. 27).

Taylor's thesis was that only through scientific management could both employer and worker fulfill their needs and ambitions and that once those criteria were met, there would no longer be any cause for labor unrest. The backdrop to Taylor's work was the intense, violent, and often bloody warfare then taking place between owners and workers, both in the US and in Europe. There was also the ideological struggle being waged between industrial capitalism, socialism/communism, and anarchism. Taylor attempted to demonstrate that by cooperating in a spirit of shared sacrifice, labor and management could work together for the benefit of everyone. We'll assess the success of his prescriptions in that area later as well. Suffice it to say that following a visit by Taylor to a workplace, 80%-90% of the original workforce joined the ranks of the unemployed. But back to our Taylor haunting....

Taylor urged management to take on the responsibility of collecting all of the tacit knowledge of every trade practiced in their enterprise and “classifying, tabulating, and reducing this knowledge to rules, laws, and formulae which are immensely helpful to the workmen in doing their daily work.” Management would also take on four essential tasks that form the heart of scientific management:
  1. Develop the science for each element of the work every worker performs, using time and motion studies, etc.
  2. Scientifically select, train, teach, and develop each worker to the highest level. Previously workers chose their own work and carried out their own training by whatever means they could arrange.
  3. Management must “heartily cooperate with the men so as to insure all of the work [is] being done in accordance with the principles of the science which has been developed.” This means training at the task level.
  4. Almost equal division of work and responsibility between management and labor, with management taking on the science and task-level direction of each worker (cf. pp. 36-37).
Taylor acknowledges that scientific management inevitably results in a further division of labor as tasks are separated and subdivided (cf. p. 38).

So where are we at? So far we have vastly improved productivity, a recommendation for much higher wages, labor-management cooperation, task-level direction, and extreme and increasing division of labor. That is at best a mixed ledger. Next time, we'll look at Taylor's ideas on cooperation and how it is to be achieved. We'll also begin to form a picture of what scientific management meant to the people doing the work. And don't worry -- we'll get to the Agile connection very soon.

All for now....


Taylor, Frederick Winslow, The Principles of Scientific Management. New York & London: Harper, 1911, reprint edition, 1934.