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Frederick Taylor and the Roots of Scientific Management

By September 22, 2017Home Blog

This article looks at Frederick Taylor’s role in the management field and how his achievements as the originator of a science of work influenced the public management thought and the lean manufacturing process. It shows how Taylor’s principles of scientific management, specifically his work on time and motion experiments and focus on the worker have formed the basis of several lean manufacturing principles employed years later.

A pioneer of management in history, Frederick Taylor is praised to this day for his ideas of creating a management science to analyze work and to improve efficiency through knowledge. (1). He inspired and challenged individuals from different work spheres all around the world: from students to employees to managers to CEO’s, and because of it Taylor’s system remains valuable and is taught in academia one century after his death. As the engineer started his career as a journeyman and supervisor at a steel company and a manager at a paper company, he saw a need to increase the productivity at his workplaces. Taylor was convinced that if employees lack motivation to do the work in a timely manner, it is the manager’s fault and introducing time and motion based experiments could teach managers efficient production methods. So basically, Taylor’s approach was to give managers more responsibilities so they could learn efficient methods and pass it over to workers to improve the overall performance of a firm.

Taylor’s work coincided with the time when college education was rising and having a professional or semi-professional status was valuable. After his ideas got published in his 1895 ASME paper, his 1903 book Shop Management and The principles of Scientific Management, colleges introduced the engineer’s work in their curricula. That influenced more middle class students to enroll in college to study his methods and gain knowledge that will help them later in their jobs. Business schools were also apprehensive to Taylor’s approach on management. For instance, Harvard University’s School of Business decided to implement Taylor’s principles of scientific management in their curricula but the school wanted somebody competent with deep knowledge of the subject to teach it. That was how Taylor got persuaded to lecture at Harvard, although he did not think students there could learn the whole concept without experiencing the work themselves (1). Taylor’s opinion on students’ learning the shop management was that “one trouble with the man who has had a very extensive academic education is that he fails to see any good coming to him from long continued work as a workman” (2). However, he continued to teach and his lectures did make a difference in the business programs, because the entrepreneur had both the theoretical and the practical knowledge on how to increase efficiency and productivity in a firm. Some professors at Harvard praised him and thought Taylor’s approach was special because he “seemed to provide something of a formula for management” (1). The engineer wanted to teach scientific management as a profession, and his work entered the curriculum just as college education was becoming a prerequisite for managerial and professional success.

Having Taylor’s work taught in academia was advantageous for the engineer, because his ideas became exposed to so many young learners and because it enhanced business education at the same time. Taylor’s scientific management approach was so influential that years later, some of his principles were approached by theories like lean manufacturing. Lean manufacturing involves elimination of waste throughout value chain, so basically any human activity that absorbs resources but creates no value.

Although Taylor’s scientific management and lean manufacturing claim to use different approaches, the elimination of waste to improved worker efficiency is seen in both theories. As presented in the lecture slides, lean manufacturing, or Kaizen, is defined as improvement of a company and a change for the better. The concept started at the Toyota Motor Corporation in early 1950s because Japanize auto market sensed an increase in competition and scares resources. When Toyota and General Motors joined in a venture to improve both products and processes in United States, Henri Ford was credited as the originator of the concept of lean manufacturing. Ford’s assembly line method used quality parts and proper assembly, with an emphasis on continuous improvement Ford also emphasized efficiency along the value chain by using local component shops to minimize transportation Peterson noted that although there is no evidence of a direct relationship between Ford and Taylor, Ford’s subordinates were well versed in Taylor’s philosophy, and both men were aware of each other’s approaches (3).

If we look at Taylor’s principle of scientific management as it relates to labor, workers searched for waste in any aspect of production, including indirect costs. Whereas in lean manufacturing, workers optimized direct labor and minimized manufacturing support costs. And from the perspective of operations management, there is again a connection between Taylor’s work regarding the mass production processes and lean manufacturing. Taylor’s focus on the organizational aspect of the factory and the role of the individual has been a key element in the development of lean manufacturing. As Kaizen evolves in the future, Taylorism will continue to be an important aspect of lean manufacturing theory.



1. Hindy Lauer Schachter, (2010),”The role played by Frederick Taylor in the rise of the academic management fields”, Journal of Management History, Vol. 16 Iss 4 pp. 437 – 448

2. Taylor, F. (1913), Letter to Edwin Gay, Stevens Institute of Technology, Hoboken, NJ, October 9, available in Taylor Collection.

3. Peterson, P. B. (2002). The misplaced origin of just-in-time production methods. Management Decision, 40(1/2): 82-88

Farshad Rabib

Author Farshad Rabib

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