Taylorism is Back … with a Vengeance

Frederick_Winslow_Taylor (Taylorism)I was really happy to hear someone on the national news the other day mention Taylorism.

It is refreshing to see and hear these flashbacks to old school thinking. To some of the early ideas for what has become a huge industry … consulting.

Taylor was one of the first Management Consultants. Bain, McKinsey, Accenture and so many others can thank him for their incredible growth industry.

I’m happy to see this because this is what I studied in university. It’s ironic that the cycle is repeating itself … again. Taylorism fell out of favor (in a sense), but now it’s back and I’m happy to see this.

For those that don’t know what Taylorism is … bear with me for a moment.

Taylor is referred to as the Father of Management. However, as has been shown, particularly by the Japanese in the 80’s and continuing today, there are other means to motivate workers. See my references to Deming and Shewhart below and look at the work that led to the Taguchi Method and Quality Circles.

Time Motion Studies

Frederick W. Taylor was famous for his Time Motion Studies … over 100 years ago. He is the reason we don’t have shovels as big as a wheelbarrows.

He studied people, processes and technologies in old and traditional industries. Think about what was going on 100 years ago. Farm workers were moving to the cities. It was the end of the Agrarian Age and the beginning of the Industrial Age.

  • People were going to work at factories.
  • These factories did traditional, simple and required work to build the infrastructure that built America.
  • Unions were in their infancy. Working hours were long. Conditions were harsh.

The ability to work not just the comfy 8 hours companies seem to expect these days. No, they were on the job for 12+ hours a shiftusually 6 days a week. Being able to do this every day was important. Not just for the factory owner, but for the worker too.

The Ability to Wield a Shovel for 12 Hours

This was the mandate. Make sure people shoveling coal into boilers or sand into molds could do so for their allotted shift. Make sure they could do this day-in and day-out for weeks and months on end. While people were easily replaced … remember people were coming from farms to the factories every day. The factory owners still wanted to maximize their means of production.

Enter Frederick W. Taylor

imageTaylor realized that everything was connected. As a trained mechanical engineer he knew that machines have a limit to what they can do and for how long they could be expected to perform said duties. He wisely applied the same philosophy to humans.

He created extensive Time-Motion Studies. These studies had multiple factors and controls. Many of the philosophies are still used today. One of the more famous studies was to identify the best size of a shovel head to maximize the amount of material that could be moved while ensuring the human using the shovel could perform this task for 12 hours a day.

Pay the Worker, Not the Job
Taylor believed in finding the right jobs for workers, and then paying them well for the increased output. He advocated paying the person and not the job and believed that
unions would be unnecessary if workers were paid their individual worth. Taylor doubled productivity. Source: PBS

imageAmong other things Taylor optimized for the best shovel head size. Everyone working in their yard this weekend can thank Taylor for this. Even 100 years ago he was looking out for Millennials & Gen Z's.

PDCA is Next

I'm looking forward to the day when the national news starts talking about Shewhart and Demingagain. Just like they did in the 80's.

It will happen. All cycles repeat themselves.

I'm sure Frederick W. Taylor would appreciate that cyclical repeating. I'm sure he would have come up with a time and motion analysis for it too.

Image Credits: Wikimedia, PBS


Jeff is an expert in the Enterprise Content Management industry. He brings over 20 years of Channel Sales, Partner Marketing and Alliance expertise to audiences around the world in speaking engagements and via his writing. He has worked for Microsoft, Kodak, and K2. He is currently the consulting with Microsoft and partners to drive Community Engagement and Alliances.

Tweet him
@jshuey or connect on LinkedIn, Facebook, or Google+ He is active in the Microsoft Partner Community and is the co-founder and President of the IAMCP Seattle chapter.

He is a contributing author to
Entrepreneur, Elite Daily, Yahoo, US News and to the Personal Branding Blog.