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A Comparison between Taylorism and the Scientific Method

When most people think of Scientific Management, they think of Frederic Winslow Taylor. He led a movement against waste and “soldiering” which revolutionized the Industrial age. He called his theory “Scientific Management”, although many who come after debate the appropriateness of the title. It seems more appropriate to call the theory “Taylorism”, as many do. There are others who have also contributed to the school of Scientific Management, most notably Frank and Lillian Gilbreth, Henry Gantt, and Henry Ford. There are common characteristics of each of these approaches, which create the style of management called Scientific Management.

This paper, however, will focus on Taylor and what he called “Scientific Management”. First, we will look at the scientific method, however, so that an accurate answer to the question “Is scientific management scientific? ” Can be found. Then we will look at the ways in which Scientific Management, as espoused by Taylor, was not scientific. Finally, we will look at the ways in which Scientific Management is related to the scientific community. First, a brief overview of the scientific method. The scientific method can be broken down into five basic steps:

1. Observation, leading to naming of the Problem or Question. 2. Form a Hypothesis (educated guess) which may explain the observations, and make predictions based on the hypothesis. 3. Testing of the Hypothesis to examine if it is true, using proper controls. 4. Check and Interpret the results. 5. Publishing results to be verified by others . Of course, when testing the hypothesis, all relevant test information must be included so that the results can be tested by others. In science, a hypothesis which cannot be dis-proved, becomes a theory.

It is the role of science to prove a hypothesis wrong – when a hypothesis can withstand attempts to disprove it, its status as a theory grows until it is accepted as a law. A common example is Newton’s theory of gravity. He observed that objects always fell down to the ground. He formed a hypothesis that there was a force acting on the object to pull it to the earth. He predicted that this force would act equally on all objects. He tested this hypothesis and recorded his results. He published these results for review, and they have been validated time and again by scientists, giving them the status of “Newton’s LAW of Gravity”.

Scientific Management, as seen by Taylor, did not really follow the scientific method. However, it did use scientific tools. This is a careful distinction. Essential in the verification of a scientific hypothesis, there must be testing which can be reproduced by other scientists. This means that the same set of tools for measurement must be available, the same mathematical formulas used, and the same population sample for testing. First, let’s examine the relationship between Taylor and the scientific method. As stated by Taylor himself:

The majority of these men believe that the fundamental interests of employes and employers are necessarily antagonistic. Scientific management, on the contrary, has for its very foundation the firm conviction that the true interests of the two are one and the same; that prosperity for the employer cannot exist through a long term of years unless it is accompanied by prosperity for the employee, and vice versa; and that it is possible to give the workman what he most wants high wages and the employer what he wants a low labor cost–for his manufactures .

Taylor’s observation is that most people view the fundamental interests of employers and employees as antagonistic. His hypothesis is that this is not the case, in fact, that the goal of the employers for low cost manufacturing and the goal of the employee for high wages are compatible. Already, there is a mistake in his logic, he does not set out a hypothesis to answer the fundamental question – Do employees and management share the same objective? However, Taylor’s real hypothesis (although not stated) is that labor can be performed more efficiently. He sets out to test this hypothesis.

His motion and time studies can all be performed by others to validate the results. He used these studies to dramatically improve production and efficiency, however, he had the opposite goal – in fact, the result was so extreme there was an investigation of the practice lead by the United States Congress against claims of de-humanization ! Another scholar notes: “Nevertheless, the industrial engineer with his stop watch and clip-board, standing over you measuring each little part of the job and one’s movements became a hated figure and lead to much sabotage and group resistance. ”

In many ways, Scientific Management is very scientific. First, it relies upon measurements and replication of results. Second, it has the same ethical questions as medical sciences. Finally, scientific management as espoused by Taylor has been modified by new hypothesis. A result of measurements and replication of results was the revolutionizing of the labor force from a “rule-of-thumb” or trial and error process to a demonstrable, formulaic process for the completion of each step in the production process. However, this result brought up the ethical question of humans being viewed as machines.

As what is happening in modern times with stem cell research and other human scientific inquiries, the notion of “man as machine” raised some serious ethical concerns in America. However, this concern also opened the door for competing hypothesis to explain what the relationship is between employer’s goals and employee’s goals and how they can be brought together. The school of Human Relations came from this line of inquiry, exemplified by the results of the Hawthorne Study (which also followed scientific principles in how it was conducted! ).

The following contrasts the assumptions of Taylor’s Scientific Management with the results of the Hawthorne study: Traditional Hypothesis (Scientific Management) • people try to satisfy one class of need at work: economic need • no conflict exists between individual and organizational objectives • people act rationally to maximize rewards • we act individually to satisfy individual needs Human relations Hypothesis • organizations are social systems, not just technical economic systems • we are motivated by many needs • we are not always logical • we are interdependent; our behavior is often shaped by the social context.

• informal work group is a major factor in determining attitudes and performance of individual workers • management is only one factor affecting behavior; the informal group often has a stronger impact • job roles are more complex than job descriptions would suggest; people act in many ways not covered by job descriptions • there is no automatic correlation between individual and organizational needs • communication channels cover both logical/economic aspects of an organization and feelings of people • teamwork is essential for cooperation and sound technical decisions • leadership should be modified to include concepts of human relations.

• job satisfaction will lead to higher job productivity management requires effective social skills, not just technical skills Frederic Taylor introduced great advantages into modern production and efficiency. However, he misrepresented his theory when he called it “Scientific Management”. It is well understood that he was referring to the techniques he used to create benchmarks and quality procedures for work processes. However, as a general theory, he does not set out to answer the question he claims he is answering: Do management and employees share the same goals? In this way he has misrepresented himself.

However, he opened the door to scientific evaluation and inquiry into this own theory. His use of measurements and work-units follows mathematics perfectly and augments a science of human motion. He also shared his theories with his contemporaries, which allowed for discussion of the hypothesis and challenge – even before Congress, much like stem cell research today. Finally, he created a theory which could be challenged by others. Mayo, Barnard, and the Hawthorne Studies all set out to show the differences between what the employers want and what the employees want, and how to reach an equitable solution.

Bibliography Net MBA: Business Knowledge Center. Frederic Taylor and Scientific Management, Internet Center for Management and Business Administration, Inc, <http://www. netmba. com/mgmt/scientific/>. Taylor, F. W, The Principles of Scientific Management, Harper & Row, London, 1911 Walker, Michael, The Nature of Scientific Thought, Prentice-Hall, Englewood Cliffs, NJ, 1963 Wertheim, E. G. Professor, Historical Background of Organizational Behavior, Northeastern University, College of Business Administration, Boston, MA, <http://web. cba. neu. edu/%7Eewertheim/introd/history. htm#Taylor>.