Over 100 Years Later and We Are Still Doing the Same

Through research for my upcoming book and webisode series I have found that some of Fredrick Taylors methods are amazingly similar to those still applied today by some Lean or Six Sigma consultants.

Taylor was one of the earliest advocates of work smarter not harder. He was fixated on efficiency. His methods accomplished this aim by the study of a task and finding the most efficient, least wasteful, method to complete that task.

Taylor was famous for introducing the concept of studying work to seek ways to do it cheaper and faster. Today, Lean and Six Sigma consultants often enter an organisation on the same premise.


Taylor & Gantt (of Gantt chart fame who was associated with Taylor for 30 years) studied work with a stopwatch and timed the various activities to determine efficiency data. Today many consultants still time each work activity using a stopwatch.

Taylor & Gantt determined through their time studies how long a job should take, and introduced standardisation and piece-rate pay scales based on the most efficient timings. Today SLAs and monitoring against standard times are often recommended by consultants.

Gantt famously stated “every move a man makes must count”. Today this sounds remarkably similar to the lean waste of “motion”, with consultants studying each move a worker makes to see if any “wasteful motion” can be removed.

I recognise not all Lean and Six Sigma consultants are the same, with some going beyond the tools and not focusing purely on waste removal (e.g. respect the people), but many are repeating methods that were used pre 1900!

Interestingly Shingo cites Taylor as a source for inspiration for baselining along with his time and motion studies, but moved way beyond copying methods used by Taylor, Gantt and Gilbreth.

For those interested in more have a read of Taylor’s The Principles of Scientific Management and Robert Kanigel’s book The One Best Way.



3 thoughts on “Over 100 Years Later and We Are Still Doing the Same

  1. It is true that using time and motion studies to beat people up is not a good idea. At the same time, I don’t have any problem with people using old ideas. I think you could do much better than most companies by apply good ideas from 1950. True you can do even better by applying some good new ideas. But you could also do way worse either by apply dumb new ideas (there are plenty of these) or applying new ideas poorly.

    In my opinion, applying ideas poorly and failing to give any serious thought to management strategies are the main problems. Not failing to apply new ideas.

  2. David,

    You stated that ,”Gantt famously stated “every move a man makes must count”. Today this sounds remarkably similar to the lean waste of “motion”, with consultants studying each move a worker makes to see if any “wasteful motion” can be removed.”

    The problem with many consultants in the market today, is that they use Industrial Engineering methods without a systemic understanding of the theory behind them. For instance, a well established consulting firm offers an “introduction to Lean, Pull Systems and Kanban and will explain how established industrial engineering theory can apply to software development process.” I contacted the principal, and he acknowledge that they don’t even have an IE on their staff. IE is a profession, unlike most improvement approaches in the market for the last 20+ years.

    Back to your post, motion economy is just one component out of a larger system in the IE profession. The system also includes theories and methods from the following disciplines: safety and health, human factors engineering, systems engineering, plant layout design, methods engineering, organizational design, statistics, human-machine interaction, quality engineering, production engineering, value engineering, production planning & control, engineering economics, and many others. Theory of systems is the glue that holds the interactions of all these theories within the context of the engineering design process.

    When an professional industrial engineer makes decisions on motion study, she is asking a myriad of questions about the system in question, such as, what is the system under study? What is its purpose? Is the system suboptimized and what are the causes? What are the system leverages and constraints? What is the nature of the interaction of people with the equipment, method, environment, people, upstream and downstream processes, etc? What is the stability of the process? What is the measurement system? What is the competence of the individual(s) carrying out the work? What is the history of the process? What is the existing communication process? What are the organization theories-in use? What is the reward system? and many more depending on the specific context.

    I agree with your assessment that there is a large number of impostors who may be very competent is their specific subject matter area but totally incompetent in large scale design of organizations. An excellent machine operator does not make a factory designer. Take many of the leaders of Lean (whatever that means) that do not even possess education in engineering or management. They have never transformed an organization under their leadership with full responsibility for profits and losses. Don’t you think they would be billionaires if they applied the great knowledge the hack? They are mere storytellers that have found a niche writing books about Toyota and selling an illusion to a quick-fix prone management population. The confusion and waste these consultants generate only contributes to the economic disaster we experience today.

    Fernando J. Grijalva
    demingsos (twitter)

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