The assumptions of scientific management
in 1908 Frederick Taylor carried a stopwatch in to a steel plant in Philadelphia and began the time and motion studies that would lead to his publication, “The Principles of Scientific Management.” His goal was to find the “one best method” of work – substituting “science for rule of thumb.”
We no longer are surprised by the efficiency and productivity that scientific management delivers. But I would suggest that we have forgotten the six basic assumptions that Taylor makes. Here is a summary as set out by Postman in Technopoly (p. 51):
- The primary goal of labor and thought is efficiency.
- Technical calculation in all respects is superior to human judgment.
- Human judgment cannot be trusted because it is plagued by laxity, ambiguity, and unnecessary complexity.
- Subjectivity is an obstacle to clear thinking.
- What cannot be measured either does not exist or is of no value.
- The affairs of citizens are best guided and conducted by experts.
I’ve been pondering the impact that these assumptions have on our organizations and how they influence our decisions and actions on a daily basis. Are we tempted to make everything in our lives more efficient? Are we tempted to apply efficiency standards to our relationships too? Are we at risk of trying to measure things that require wisdom and not process and procedure?
We forget these assumptions at our peril.
Postman, N. 1993. Technopoly: The Surrender of Culture to Technology. New York, NY, Vintage.