The scientific school of management focused on the ‘science’ of creating specialized work processes and workforce skills to complete production tasks efficiently. This lesson will discuss the development of scientific management and how it is applied by management as illustrated by the classic example of Henry Ford’s Model T production line.

Scientific Management

The scientific school of management is one of the schools that make up classical management theory. Still very much concerned with increasing productivity and efficiency in organizations by finding the best way to do something, the scientific school of management is focused on the ‘science’ of creating specialized work processes and workforce skills to complete production tasks efficiently.

Classical scientific theorists such as Frederick Taylor, Henry Gantt, and Frank and Lillian Gilbreth spent their time researching how a specific job was done, what steps were taken by an employee to complete the work, the amount of time it took a worker to complete a task using different methods, and then used this information to determine which way was most effective.

The result of this research led to the development of four principles of scientific management:

  1. Management should provide workers with a precise, scientific approach for how to complete individualized tasks.
  2. Management should carefully choose and train each employee on one specific task.
  3. Management should communicate with employees to ensure the method used to complete the task is, in fact, the most productive and efficient.
  4. Management should create the appropriate division of labor.

Application of Scientific Management

Application of these scientific management principles is quite simplistic once up and running, but it requires a great deal of analysis up front. A manager must first consider the nature of the work that needs to be completed and then decide the best possible way to go about it. A division of labor allows the manager to take complex tasks and break them down into smaller, more precise tasks that the individual workers can complete. Each employee is trained explicitly on how to best perform their task. A manager will check with their worker to ensure that the suggested method for completing the work is efficient and make adjustments when necessary. If all goes as planned, a manager will watch as a product efficiently moves from worker to worker down the production line. As the individual parts come together, the sum is essentially created. Think of an assembly line where each individual employee completes one repetitive step in the product development process. The product is finished and ready to be sold after each employee completes his or her respective tasks in the product development process. To see classical scientific management, division of labor, and the assembly line in action, we can turn to Henry Ford of Ford Motor Company.

Henry Ford’s Model T Production Line

Turns out that right around the same time Taylor, Gantt, and the Gilbreths were developing the principles of scientific management, Henry Ford was looking for an effective way to produce his Model T. At that time, a car was really considered a luxury item that was handcrafted by one individual on a factory floor, and Ford sought to change this. By combining the idea of scientific management’s best possible way to accomplish a task through the division of labor and Ford’s engineering background, the true assembly line was born.

Ford spent a good amount of time researching the best possible way to assemble the Model T. First, he rationalized the most effective way to build the Model T based on the size of parts. From there, he determined the best order to assemble similarly sized parts. Workers were then assigned and trained on individualized tasks. Production began, but there were a few hiccups along the way.

Henry Ford wanted an effective way to produce his Model T.
Henry Ford

After much trial and error over a five year period, Ford resolved to first build the basic chassis, which included the frame, axles, and wheels. From there, the vehicle would move down the production line as individualized parts were added. Eventually raw materials and sub-assemblies were added, which allowed for smaller parts to be assembled before they were brought to the main assembly line.

Once the process was defined it only took 93 minutes to build the Model T, allowing Ford to mass-produce the car. In fact, from 1908 through 1927, approximately 15 million Model Ts were produced using the assembly line that Ford designed. Ford’s assembly line method quickly spread to numerous manufacturing operations around the world and is still in use today. I am sure many of you can think of several products you own that were produced using the assembly line.

Lesson Summary

Let’s review. Classical scientific management theory is focused on the ‘science’ of creating specialized work processes and workforce skills to complete production tasks efficiently. Contributors of the scientific management theory were Frederick Taylor, Henry Gantt, and Frank and Lillian Gilbreth. It was from these individuals’ work that the four principles of scientific management were developed, which included:

  1. Management should provide workers with a precise, scientific approach for how to complete individualized tasks.
  2. Management should carefully choose and train each employee on one specific task.
  3. Management should communicate with employees to ensure that the method used to complete the task is, in fact, the most productive and efficient.
  4. Management should create an appropriate division of labor.

Henry Ford provides a good example of classical scientific management with his development of the assembly line used to produce his Model T. The assembly line and similar scientific management principles are still in use today.

Lesson Objective

After the lesson you should be able to define the scientific school of management and describe how the the four principles of scientific management are applied to improve the efficiency production.