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What has Taylor ever done for us?

SERIES ARTICLE

Advances in Project Management

Scientific and humane management reconsidered

By Prof Darren Dalcher

Director, National Centre for Project Management
University of Hertfordshire

UK



Pioneers pave the path for those who follow by shaping the discipline and defining the terrain. They also play a crucial role in surfacing and enshrining basic assumptions that permeate thinking and logic around the emerging discipline. As a leading pioneer in the development of management thinking, Taylor’s influence on the discipline of project management merits exploration and analysis in the context of the wider philosophy of management.

Fredrick Winslow Taylor (1856-1915) is considered a principal innovator in industrial engineering, especially in relation to improving efficiency and utilising time and motion studies. He is particularly renowned for establishing the principles of scientific management, through the release of a monograph bearing that same title in 1911.

Taylor was born into a wealthy Quaker family from Philadelphia, yet started his professional life on the factory floor as an apprentice pattern maker. He became a chief engineer at Midvale Steel Works, before moving to the Bethlehem Steel Company, where he pioneered time and motion studies, analysing how each specific job could be done more efficiently. He was often seen walking around the factory floor with a stopwatch and note-pad, breaking down manual tasks into a series of components that could be measured (Hindle, 2008; p. 309). According to Drucker (1974; p. 181), Taylor was “the first man in history who did not take work for granted, but looked at it and studied it”. Moreover, Drucker also maintained that between them, Darwin, Ford and Taylor, were the makers of the modern world.

Taylor has been instrumental in the development of modern management. The Principles of scientific management was the first business book best seller. The text has inspired administrators and efficiency aficionados to adopt productivity-enhancing and waste-reducing procedures and measures. The influence of the book has endured for over a century and the many translations have been known to inspire the writing of Henri Fayol in France, the development of the movement for Scientific Management in the UK headed by Major Lyndall Urwick, who would later become Britain’s first professional management consultant, the efficiency and improvement schemes of Italy’s Mussolini, and the target setting advocated by Lenin for Soviet workers. While failure to meet explicit production targets may have directed Soviet workers to the gulag (Hindle; p. 310); the principles of scientific management remain at the core of modern management thinking underpinning a great deal of theory and concepts in administrative studies, work design, industrial era organisation, and decision theory.

A 1997 Fortune article noted that: ‘Taylor’s influence is omnipresent. It’s his ideas that determine how many burgers McDonald’s expects its flippers to flip or how many callers the phone company expects its operators to assist.’ (Farnham, 1997)

What’s the big idea?

According to the Economist Guide to Management Ideas and Gurus, scientific management was the first big management idea to reach a mass audience, as it swept through corporate America in the early years of the Twentieth Century, before spreading to continental Europe and the rest of the world. Moreover, The Guide also claims that a significant proportion of subsequent management thinking has been either a reaction to scientific thinking or a development of it (Hindle; p. 159).

The label ’scientific management’ is borrowed from the work of US lawyer and judge, Louis Dembitz Brandeis who described the need to coordinate enterprise to everyone’s benefit. Likewise, Taylor was a strong believer in increasing the total benefits and welfare of all participants.

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Editor’s note: The PMWJ Advances in Project Management series includes articles by authors of program and project management books published by Gower and other publishers in the Routledge family. Each month an introduction to the current article is provided by series editor Prof Darren Dalcher, who is also the editor of the Gower/Routledge Advances in Project Management series of books on new and emerging concepts in PM. Prof Dalcher’s article is an introduction to the invited paper this month in the PMWJ.

 



About the Author


Darren Dalcher, PhD

Series Editor
Director, National Centre for Project Management
University of Hertfordshire, UK

 


Darren Dalcher
, Ph.D. HonFAPM, FRSA, FBCS, CITP, FCMI, SFHEA is Professor of Project Management at the University of Hertfordshire, and founder and Director of the National Centre for Project Management (NCPM) in the UK. He has been named by the Association for Project Management (APM) as one of the top 10 “movers and shapers” in project management in 2008 and was voted Project Magazine’s “Academic of the Year” for his contribution in “integrating and weaving academic work with practice”. Following industrial and consultancy experience in managing IT projects, Professor Dalcher gained his PhD in Software Engineering from King’s College, University of London.

Professor Dalcher has written over 150 papers and book chapters on project management and software engineering. He is Editor-in-Chief of Software Process Improvement and Practice, an international journal focusing on capability, maturity, growth and improvement. He is the editor of the book series, Advances in Project Management, published by Gower Publishing of a new companion series Fundamentals of Project Management. Heavily involved in a variety of research projects and subjects, Professor Dalcher has built a reputation as leader and innovator in the areas of practice-based education and reflection in project management. He works with many major industrial and commercial organisations and government bodies in the UK and beyond.

Darren is an Honorary Fellow of the APM, a Chartered Fellow of the British Computer Society, a Fellow of the Chartered Management Institute, and the Royal Society of Arts, and a Member of the Project Management Institute (PMI), the Academy of Management, the Institute for Electrical and Electronics Engineers, and the Association for Computing Machinery. He is a Chartered IT Practitioner. He is a Member of the PMI Advisory Board responsible for the prestigious David I. Cleland project management award and of the APM Professional Development Board. Prof Dalcher is an academic advisor for the PM World Journal. He can be contacted at [email protected].

To see other works by Prof Darren Dalcher, visit his author showcase in the PM World Library at http://pmworldlibrary.net/authors/darren-dalcher/.