Scientific Management Theory – Principles and Limitations

Scientific Management Theory – Principles and Limitations

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Syed Aquib Ur
Syed Aquib Ur Rahman
Assistant Manager
Updated on Jun 24, 2024 18:51 IST

Scientific management theory, introduced by Frederick Winslow Taylor in the late 19th century, revolutionised work efficiency. It focuses on scientific analysis to enhance productivity, efficiency, and organisational workflow. By standardising methods and involving workers and managers in decision-making, it aims to eliminate inefficiencies. Taylor's principles, shaping modern management theories, continue to influence industries today. Learn how this theory transformed work dynamics and explore its relevance in contemporary business environments.

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Scientific management theory is an objective approach that leads to economic efficiency and workflow productivity in an organization. Frederick Winslow Taylor, the father of scientific management theory, used it as a management practice in the manufacturing sector back in the late 19th century. 

It is not used to its fullest extent today, but many modern industries still use it to some degree. It is on this theory of management, that many of the modern management theories are based. 

The blog attempts to explore scientific management theory in more detail. 

Before reading further, it is recommended that you gather some ideas about the different types of management theories

What is Scientific Management Theory?

The scientific theory of management changed how organizations perceived workers as lazy and who work, but inefficiently, for earning income. 

Frederick Winslow Taylor, who formulated the scientific management theory, came up with a solution for the inefficiency by observing worker productivity through scientific methods. 

His work, Principles of Scientific Management, published in 1911, differentiated the scientific method from the traditional management approach. 

Taylor opined that under classical management, the workers are incentivized only through higher pay and that management itself is not responsible for any issues causing bad work environments. 

According to Taylor, the ‘remedy for the inefficiency lies in systematic management’. He believed that workers are not inherently lazy. Bad working conditions are a reason for their inefficiency. 

But this is not the only reason for the worker’s inefficiency. Taylor identified two more reasons causing it. One was that workers cannot produce the desired output in a given time. Second, the job was not understood by the worker and was done wrong. 

Scientific management theory aims to analyse the workflow of workers to improve labour productivity which leads to improved economic efficiency. By improving efficiency, it reduces the waste of resources and time. 

Taylor proposed an empirical observation of how employees in an organization worked. And in his research, he focused on the routine tasks of the employees. Then, in his management methods, he would look into the equipment or technology used and try to customize it for the worker’s ease of use. 

Taylor proposed that every task of the labourer must be planned in advance by a dedicated department. This approach led to the idea of a systematic organizational structure that is found in Max Weber’s bureaucratic management theory. 

Let’s explore the main principles of this scientific management theory. 

Principles of Scientific Management

Mentioned below are the four principles that are still followed by many organizations in different industries in some form or the other. 

First Principle – Replace the “rule of thumb” with science and standardization

There should only be one method of working. It must be defined scientifically. According to Taylor, the best way to do a job must be determined beforehand in a scientific fashion. If workers have devised their own ways of working, it will not lead to productivity. 

The ‘ways of working’ here refer to the tools used. These tools must be standardized and that will remove the factor of bad working conditions. 

There should be no rule of thumb, nor any trial and error for any job. That way, the worker’s performance will increase. 

Second Principle – The Right Person for the Job

For any job, the management should hire the right person for the right job. That worker should have the necessary skills to perform the tasks to fruition. The management should also hire a worker knowing they will have challenges too. For that, training workers would be required once they are selected. Then the worker should be introduced to standardized tools for their work process. 

Third Principle – Proper Division of Work Between Workers and Managers

The core functions of management, planning, organising, controlling, and directing, must be adopted by the organization. The worker who is assumed to be able to work should not be assumed to know and apply these facets of management. By assigning the worker with the correct workload, there can be a better mutual understanding between two parties, and will further eliminate uncertainties in the future. 

Fourth Principle – Collaboration Between Workers and Managers

Workers and managers should work in harmony, according to this principle. It is the responsibility of the management to create a healthy environment for the workers by eliminating distrust. For that, there should be clear communication and development of team spirit. 

Additionally, read up on POSDCORB to discover how closely related they are.  

Goals of Scientific Management

Scientific management theory aims to increase efficiency so that revenue is increased. This can be achieved through the following goals. 

  1. Improving productivity by standardizing tools to achieve a high production rate.
  2. Ensuring quality is consistent in products through research and quality control.
  3. Introducing cost control techniques to minimize the cost of production.
  4. Making sure consumers find a regular supply of goods.
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Applications of Scientific Management Theory

Scientific management theory is applicable in a variety of modern-day business contexts. 

For Ensuring Quality

For the function of management to help plan documents that meet standards is equivalent to the documentation used today in quality management best practices, such as ISO 9000. 

For Eliminating Repetitive Tasks

Another application of scientific management in practice is using tools that eliminate mundane tasks. One example can be marketing automation which can be used for email delivery to the right consumers at different stages of the marketing funnel. This way, the marketing department can work on more creative tasks and improve efficiency there. 

Limitations of Scientific Management Theory

There are a few criticisms of this scientific theory of management. 

  1. The basic limitation is that workers are not treated humanely, as the focus is only on productivity and efficiency. There is no concern for the emotional or psychological well-being of the employees. 
  2. Focusing on one type of skill, the other skills the worker may have are not considered in this theory. So any initiative a worker may have is not considered by the management. 
  3. Doing the same kind of work can lead to monotony in the future. 
  4. Too much focus on performance based on time can demotivate employees. This can lead to absenteeism. It can also adversely affect their mental states, of which the theory is unconcerned with. 

Relationship Between Scientific Management Theory and Transactional Leadership Style

The transactional leadership style came to the limelight through German sociologist Max Weber in 1947, which later got modified by Bernard Bass, clubbing transactional leadership into transformational leadership. This style of leadership is based on a give-and-take relationship between the leader and their followers. The rationales behind this are increased efficiency, promotion of a strict structure and hierarchy, rewards and punishments, etc.

There are quite a few commonalities between the transactional leadership style and scientific management theory. Both focus on optimising efficiency and productivity through clear maintenance of hierarchies. The goal of this Scientific Management Theory is to eliminate inefficiencies and variations to improve work processes and tasks. Likewise, transactional leaders emphasise clear expectations and rewards for achieving specific goals. These leaders can eliminate inefficiencies by not rewarding subordinates when objectives are not met.

Learn about different leadership styles too!

Parting Thoughts

This was about Taylor’s scientific management theory. Hope you are able to see to what extent it is used and what elements are outdated in today’s context. You can explore more about management by taking up management courses online. 

FAQs

What are the 4 principles of scientific management?

  1. Science, Not Rule of Thumb: Using systematic approaches for tasks.
  2. Harmony, Not Discord: Creating a positive workplace.
  3. Cooperation, Not Individualism: Involving both managers and workers in decision-making.
  4. Development of Each Individual's Efficiency & Prosperity: Training employees and allocating work based on skills and interests.

What are the 6 elements of scientific management theory?

The six elements of the scientific management theory are

  1. Work Study: Analysing and improving work processes for greater efficiency.
  2. Standardisation of Tools and Equipment: Establishing uniform tools and equipment for consistent work quality.
  3. Scientific Selection, Placement, and Training: Systematically choosing, assigning, and training employees based on their abilities and job requirements.
  4. Development of Functional Foremanship: Dividing managerial responsibilities into specific functions for more effective supervision.
  5. Introducing Costing System: Implementing a system to measure and control costs associated with production.
  6. Mental Revolution: Encouraging a change in mindset towards work, fostering cooperation and teamwork between managers and workers for mutual benefit and success.

What are the aims of scientific management theory?

Scientific management theory aims to boost productivity and efficiency by finding the most effective ways to perform tasks. It also aims to standardise methods, tools, and procedures to ensure consistent quality of work. Taylor does use this framework to optimise performance by employing systematic approaches. Further, his theory encourages cooperation between workers and management to achieve common objectives. You can say, it focuses on reducing wastage of resources and efforts while maximising productivity. To add to it, it involves training and developing employees to enhance their skills within the organisation.

Why is scientific management theory important?

Scientific management theory is regarded as significant due to its emphasis on finding more efficient ways of working. It plays a crucial role in establishing standard practices and procedures to maintain consistent work quality. This approach also focuses on streamlining processes for better resource utilisation and overall performance improvement. Moreover, it aims to boost worker productivity and foster better collaboration between management and employees. Ultimately, it contributes to cost reduction by eliminating inefficiencies. Overall, its relevance lies in its contribution to enhancing productivity, quality, and efficiency in organisational settings.

How does the Scientific Management Theory ignore teamwork in rapidly changing environments?

Scientific management theory only emphasises efficiency through standardisation and individual task optimisation. It focuses on breaking down tasks into smaller, more manageable parts to improve productivity. This approach, however, can sometimes clash with teamwork principles, as it might overlook the collaborative aspects of work and instead prioritise individual performance.

Teamwork, on the other hand, promotes collaboration, communication, and shared responsibility among team members. It centres around collective problem-solving and leveraging diverse skills to achieve common goals. This approach may not align perfectly with Taylorism, which concentrates on standardised processes and individual task efficiency.

About the Author
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Syed Aquib Ur Rahman
Assistant Manager

Aquib is a seasoned wordsmith, having penned countless blogs for Indian and international brands. These days, he's all about digital marketing and core management subjects - not to mention his unwavering commitment ... Read Full Bio

Comments

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explain the modification of organizations in the scientific theory of management

Reply to Huddy Ruben