Today's managers owe Frederick Winslow Taylor a debt for having laid much of the foundation of their profession. Taylor's work is responsible for workplace phenomena such as reengineering and total quality management. Further, what Deming and Juran carried to Japan after World War II, was in great part so warmly received there because Taylorism was already well ensconced. Although born to a wealthy family, Taylor began his work life when he signed on as an apprentice at a small Philadelphia pump works. Four years later, at a plant in Midvale, he developed the basic elements of what later came to be known as "scientific management" -- the breakdown of work tasks into constituent elements, the timing of each element based on repeated stopwatch studies, the fixing of piece rate compensation based on those studies, the standardization of work tasks on detailed instruction cards, and generally, the systematic consolidation of the shop floor's brain work in a "planning department."
Taylor's initial experiments were aimed at determining (scientifically, of course), how much work a "first-class man" could perform. It was Taylor's goal to collect raw data about the jobs in the workplace, and then to systematize that knowledge; to replace old habits and rules of thumb with precise and usually quantitative analysis. He was convinced that scientific study would reveal a better way -- the one best way -- of doing things. No task was too mundane for scrutiny. In one celebrated example, Taylor conducted extensive experiments to determine the optimal size of a shovelful of dirt to maximize the total amount shoveled in a day.
Essentially, in his scheme of things, workers would receive extraordinary increases in wages in return for extraordinary increases in output. Thus, unit costs would decrease significantly, making possible reduced prices and increased profits. It was a win-win-win: higher wages, higher profits, and lower prices. "In the past the man was first," Taylor...
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