Operations Function - Scientific Management
The operations function, a short account was given of the work of Frederick Winslow Taylor (1911), in the decades straddling the beginning of the twentieth century. This work, and that of the scientific management movement which he led, not only laid the foundations of modern operations management, but has had, and continues to have, a major impact on the development of the world's economies. We will now briefly discuss its significance. Before Taylorism, industrial work was generally undertaken by workers who were skilled to some degree. By and large, managements made no attempt to predetermine either the methods employed in doing the work, or the time it should take. For example, if a heap of coal had to be moved from one place to another, a manager would instruct the leader of a gang of shovellers to do it; how it would be done and how long it would take was left to the workers.
With such a mind-set the manager's only scope for increasing output was to find ways of encouraging or coercing employees to work longer or harder. The post-Taylor concept of productivity improvement did not exist. Based on his own work experiences, Taylor argued that the planning and execution of work tasks should be separated, management taking responsibility for determining the most effective methods, establishing a measurement of the resulting work content, and providing the necessary equipment and training to allow the workers to employ them effectively. He also stressed that the workers should be rewarded with a fair share of the gains made from the resultant improvement in performance. (Taylor's work, The principles of scientific management is available on the intranet.)
In his own time, and ever since, Taylor has been vilified by some, for what they judge to be his responsibility for the inhumane treatment of people. What such critics often ignore is Taylor's own views on how workers should be treated, and the stupendous economic gains that his ideas have produced. Here are the views of one of the most eminent writers on business, Peter Drucker (1999), expressed in one of his most recent books, Management Challenges for the 21st Century: Within a decade after Taylor first looked at work and studied it, the productivity of the manual worker began its unprecedented rise. Since then it has been going up steadily at the rate of 3 per cent per annum compound - which means it has risen fifty-fold since Taylor. On this achievement rests all the economic and social gains of the 20th century.