Scientific Management

Use this framework to improve productivity

Scientific management is based on the theory that work efficiency can be improved by analysis and the application of science. The theory took off in the early 1900s, encouraged by the American engineer, Frederick Taylor who outlined his theories in the monograph entitled "The Principles Of Scientific Management" (1911).

Frederick Taylor developed his theories of management in the late 1800s working in an American steel company. It was here he came to the opinion that his team members failed to produce more than about a third of a good day's work.


He proposed four principles of scientific management:


1. That each element of a person's work can be scientifically described rather than simply "a rule of thumb". This often means breaking the assignment into sub-tasks, analysing each, possibly using time and motion techniques.

2. Workers should be scientifically selected and trained to do specific jobs (in contrast to the worker choosing their own jobs and training themselves). Taylor was of the view that each worker plays a crucial role in a company's success and therefore should be motivated to work in the most efficient way.

3. Workers should be managed to ensure that their output is in accordance with the principles of the science that has been developed. Taylor also believed that they should be paid accordingly with bonuses to reflect high levels of output.

4. The responsibility for the output is shared between both the management and the workers. In particular Taylor believed that management should be selected on the basis of their superior capabilities and have a responsibility for ensuring that the planned output is achieved.


Within these principles there are three that require focus; task performance, supervision and motivation.


In summary, scientific management boils down to two practices – breaking tasks into units of measure and incentivising the workforce to achieve set goals.

There can be no doubt that scientific management has proved extremely effective, especially in mass production. What can be measured can be managed.

Critics of Taylor argue that his theories imply workers are robots. Managers and employers obtain most of the benefits of the increased outputs while workers' jobs tend to be diminished.

Taylor believed in the tight supervision of labour. However, this isn’t always necessary. For example Nordstrom has a very successful principle of management – “Rule #1: Use your good judgment in all situations. There will be no additional rules”.