Wednesday, January 9, 2019

F.W. Taylor: should we care?

How many project managers are still laboring with the aftermath of Fredrick Winslow Taylor, more popularly known as F.W. Taylor?

Taylor Who?
You might ask: Who was Taylor?
Good question
F.W. Taylor was one of the first to study business systematically -- an original "operations research" guy. He brought 'Taylorism" into the business culture in the years leading up to World War I. By 1915, his ideas were considered quite advanced.

But, here's news you can use: much of what he divined is still around and affecting projects! Read on ....

Taylorism, so called
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].

Ooops, what about Agile?
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.

Managers have a role
However off-base that idea, 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.

OMG! Not a popular guy
Taylor was not well like by workers and it's not hard to see why. But Taylor's ideas and practises brought great efficiencies and profitability while providing customers with products of predictability of quality.

Do it once, right
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..."

Beck gets it right
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

Buy them at any online book retailer!