Basic approaches that have evolved over time to improve productivity

Basic approaches used to improve productivity

Scientific Management: The basis of productivity improvement

The search to improve manufacturing methods, in order to produce a superior product or increase profits, is as old as time. Unfortunately, for most of recorded history either few people felt it to be interesting enough to write down in detail or perhaps the innovators preferred secrecy for their own ends. Yet some early instances have survived.

Walter of Henley's Husbandry (Oschinsky (1971)) is a medieval example of rational thinking and hardheaded experience tied to the problem of estate management. In more modern times the experiences of engineers like Henry Maudslay (1771-1831) and William Fairbairn (1789-1874), factory owners such as Ambrose Crowley (1658-1713) and Matthew R. Boulton (1770-1842), and the flax spinner, William Marshall (1765-1845), have been recorded in sufficient detail to demonstrate clearly their own attachment to progressive methods (see Flinn (1962), Pole (1877), Rimer (1960) and Roll (1968)).

Observers like Adam Smith the economist (1723-1790) and Charles Babbage the mathematician (1792-1871) (Babbage (1835)) have equally displayed those powers of analysis and observation on which the future developments were to be based.

Indeed, when the term 'scientific management' came into use in the first years of the 20th century it did little more than formalized and rationalize the attempts of many to proceed in a particular way. "Science begins with measurement", Lord Kelvin, the doyen of Victorian scientists, is supposed to have said. It was this method of measuring and recording all aspects of life in a way which could give rise to subsequent analysis on rational lines, that constituted the basis of a scientific approach to the whole of society, of which management was a small part.

Although the production process was the one that had the most obvious need for this treatment in the latter half of the nineteenth century, it was by no means the only one. Financial control, organizational arrangement, even human relationships, all seemed to offer some advantages to a rational and scientific approach.

Next | Impact of scientific management