Saturday, April 18, 2009

Quality thinker Fredrick Taylor is a lean machine

The ideas of F.W. Taylor


How many project managers are still laboring with the aftermath of Fredrick Winslow Taylor, more popularly known as F.W. Taylor? You might ask: Who was Taylor? F.W. Taylor was one of the first to study business systematically. He brought 'Taylorism" into the business culture in the years leading up to World War I. By 1915, his ideas were considered quite advanced, and they had significant impact well into the mid-20th century.

Taylor was a mechanical engineer who worked early-on in a metal products factory. Appalled at the seemingly disorganized and informal management of the time, and equally distressed by the costly throughput of poorly motivated workers laboring at inefficient processes , Taylor set about to invent "scientific management", a revolutionary movement that proposed the reduction of waste through the careful study of work.

Taylor came up with the original 'time-and-motion' studies, perhaps one of the first attacks on non-value work. Peter Drucker, a management guru par excellence who coined the term 'knowledge worker', has ranked Taylor, along with Darwin and Freud, as one of the seminal thinkers of modern times. ["Frederick Taylor, Early Century Management Consultant", The Wall Street Journal Bookshelf, June 13, 1997 pg. A1].

The essence of Taylorism is an antithesis to agile principles but nonetheless instructive. Counter to what we know today, Taylor believed that workers are not capable of understanding the underlying principles and science of their work; they need to be instructed step-by-step what to do and how to do it; and nothing is left to chance or decision. Rigid enforcement is required.

However, Taylor was close to the mark with his doctrine about value-adding work. According to Taylor, managers must accept that they have responsibilities to design efficient and effective process and procedures. Waste must be eliminated! Every action requires definition and a means to measure results.

Taylor was not well like by workers and it's not hard to see why. But Taylor's ideas and practices brought great efficiencies and profitability while providing customers with products of predictability of quality. Taylor most important legacy is perhaps his ideas of scientific management and the importance of process definition and process management as a means to control product and productivity.

I like what Steve McConnell says about quality and the software relationship. Building off Taylor's ideas of 'do it once right', though he does not mention Mr. Taylor, McConnell, author of the respected book "Code Complete" states the " general principle of software quality is .. that improving quality reduces development costs .... the best way to improve productivity is to reduce the time reworking..."

Kent Beck, writing in his book "Extreme Programming Explained - Second Edition" has a pretty strong idea about the legacy of Taylorism and its lingering effects on the knowledge industry. He says of Taylor that he brought a social structure we continue to unconsciously apply, and warns against the message that Taylorism implies: workers are interchangeable; workers only work hard enough to not be noticed; quality is an external responsibility
A project management tip
Fredrick Taylor was the first to study and quantify non-value work and put emphasis on eliminating wasteful and time consuming processes, procedures, and environmental impediments.

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