Scientific Management Theory: Definition, History, & Principles

Scientific Management Theory: Definition, History, Principles, Contributions, and Criticisms

What is Scientific Management Theory?

Scientific management theory is a management approach that utilizes scientific methods to solve organizational problems and improve productivity. Developed by Frederick Winslow Taylor, also known as Taylorism, it aims to replace traditional management practices with a more systematic and efficient approach.

Scientific management involves conducting research, collecting data, analyzing it, and formulating principles to address organizational challenges and achieve goals. Taylor emphasized the importance of enhancing worker skills and training to maximize labor efficiency.

Unlike the old management system that focused on hiring skilled workers, scientific management theory emphasizes developing semi-skilled workers through proper training. The theory aims to improve overall efficiency and productivity by applying scientific tools and techniques in the organization.

Scientific methods involve careful observation, analysis, and experimentation. Managers can observe the organization, experiment with different task completion methods, and analyze the potential outcomes to make informed decisions.

This management approach follows a bottom-up approach, prioritizing the efficiency of lower-level workers with the belief that it will eventually lead to improved overall organizational efficiency.

The key focus of scientific management is to increase the efficiency of routine tasks through employee specialization. It considers organizational hierarchy and incentives as motivation factors for employees.

Overall, scientific management theory seeks to enhance productivity by applying scientific principles and methods to optimize worker performance and organizational processes. It aims to achieve greater efficiency, specialization, and motivation within the workforce.

According to Frederick Winslow Taylor “Scientific management means knowing exactly what you want men to do and seeing that they do it in the best and cheapest way.”

History of Scientific Management Theory

Frederick Winslow Taylor, often referred to as the “Father of Scientific Management,” made significant contributions to the development of scientific management theory. Starting as a foreman at the Midvale Steel Company in Philadelphia in 1878, Taylor worked his way up to become the chief engineer. It was during this time that he introduced the concept of the piecework pay system, which compensated employees based on their productivity rather than a fixed wage.

Taylor later worked as a consultant for various companies, including the Simonds Rolling Machine Company and Bethlehem Steel Company. He identified a common problem of low productivity caused by a lack of understanding between management and workers. Taylor believed that productivity was the key to achieving both higher wages for workers and higher profits for companies.


Taylor is one of the contributors to classical management theories. He argued that every job had a scientific approach and sought to replace the outdated rule of thumb methods with modern scientific methods based on investigation, analysis, and measurement. Taylor’s ideas and principles were outlined in his book, “Principles of Scientific Management,” published in 1911. He defined scientific management as knowing what tasks should be performed and ensuring they are executed in the most efficient and cost-effective manner.

Taylor’s theories marked the beginning of scientific management in the early 20th century. His approach, commonly known as Taylorism, emphasized standardization, time and motion studies, differential piece wage rates, proper rest to reduce fatigue, and monetary incentives to motivate workers.

FW Taylor’s scientific management theory is based on the following four studies:

Motion Study:

  • Involves examining how operators move while performing tasks.
  • Helps identify and eliminate unnecessary motion of personnel and machinery.
  • Aims to streamline work processes by optimizing movement.

Time Study:

  • Determines the precise time required to complete a specific task.
  • Assists in organizing work activities and assigning duties to personnel.
  • Reduces idle time and improves efficiency by establishing efficient work schedules.

Fatigue Study:

  • Focuses on researching and addressing employee fatigue and exhaustion.
  • Helps determine appropriate working hours and breaks to reduce fatigue.
  • Enhances productivity by ensuring employees are well-rested and energized.

Rate Setting:

  • Involves establishing differential piece wages based on workers’ performance.
  • Rewards efficient workers who meet or exceed standards.
  • Encourages productivity by linking pay to output rather than hours worked.

6 Principles of Scientific Management

Taylor developed a number of principles, the 6 principles of scientific management by F.W. Taylor are as follows:

Related: 14 Principles of Management

Development of Science in Each Element of Individual’s Work

The work assigned to each employee should be observed and analyzed in other to replace the old rule. The development of science in each element of an individual’s work requires that decisions should be made on the basis of facts rather than on opinions and beliefs.


Scientific Selection, Training, and Development of Workers

This principle suggests that workers should be selected and trained in accordance with the requirements of the job. The physical, mental, and other requirements should be specified for each job, and workers should be selected and trained to make them fit for the job.

Close Co-operation Between Management and Workers

The interest of the employer and the employees should be fully harmonized to create a mutually beneficial relationship. Workers should understand that they can not perform their work without the existence of the management (organization) and management should understand that it has no identity without the existence of laborers.

Equal Division of Works and Responsibility Between Management and Workers

The task and related responsibilities should be clearly divided among workers and management. The management should decide the time required for doing the particular work, while the responsibility for actually doing work should be given to workers.

Maximum Output in Place of Restricted Output

This principle is necessary for the prosperity of workers, owners, and also society. Maximum production ensures more wages for workers because of the piece-rate wage system. It also ensures more profit for the owners because more volume of production minimizes the cost per unit of output. In society, it upgrades the living standard of the people.

Mental Revolution

There must be a mutual relationship between workers and management in relation to the work efforts. Mental revolution requires that management should create a suitable working environment and if there are problems resolve those problems scientifically.

Also Read: Henry Mintzberg’s Management Roles: 10 Roles of a Manager

Contribution of Scientific Management Theory

The major contributions of scientific management theory to the field of management include:

  • It helps to increase production by using modern machines and tools, by planning and controlling, and by optimum uses of resources.
  • It seeks to minimize the cost of production, which increases the profit of the business firm.
  • Helps to increase workes efficiency through proper consulting.
  • Changes the attitudes of employees and employers toward the objectives of an organization.
  • This leads to greater economic prosperity and improves the living standards of people.
  • Emphasize training and development of workers, which helps to increase output and decrease material wastage and time.

Also Read: What is Lower Level Management? Definition, Examples, Skills, and Roles

Limitations of Scientific Management

Major limitations of scientific management are:

  • It emphasizes too much on technical aspects of work by ignoring human interest.
  • It only focuses on the employee’s primary needs in economic terms. It has not mentioned the incentives besides the wages.
  • Employees are forced to work on the same task time and again leading to monotony. Workers have no outside life.
  • In the name of increasing efficiency workers are forced to speed up the process beyond their capacity.
  • Workers are not allowed to take initiative.

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