Classical Scientific Management Theory

Ford assembly line Image courtsey of WikipediaThe Classical Scientific Approach to Management can be summarised as follows;

The overall approach of companies who utilise this management theory is to create specialised efficiency-oriented systems of management. The point being that tasks are specialised (think of Adam Smith’s “division of labour”) and that management is focused on efficiency. Remembering that efficiency is concerned with the relationship between achieving the businesses goals with the minimum amount of resources necessary.

This system of management dates from the late 1800′s well into the 1930s. It is considered a legacy of the Industrial Revolution and the social structure of the times. That is to say that at this point in time there was a large workforce of relatively uneducated, dis-empowered people. That is not to say that Classical/Scientific Management theory is not used by today’s businesses. It certainly is, but most businesses have also adopted ideas from theories developed later on such as Behavioural, Contingency and Political Management Theories.

Management principles

  • Hierarchical systems based on principles of specialisation, centralisation and formality.
  • Specialised tasks exist in specialised departments, with responsibility formally designated.
  • Span of control is narrow and a unitary line of command is in place (i.e.each person has one clear”boss” rather than several)

Great benefits from a consumer viewpoint, with the availability of a wide range of consumer goods. Henry Ford (of Ford Motor cars) was a strong proponent of the theory and his success in using production lines and specialisation of labour have been copied by many since he first introduced them.

Criticisms of the theory include the dehumanising, autocratic nature of the efficiency-driven system and the assumption that the needs of workers matched those of management.

See the following article from the Triangle Business Journal from 1997 that presents a solid argument against the hierarchical nature of management that many business still use. Even though this article is 10 years old this does not distract from the arguments being made, if anything the increasing prevalence of IT throughout our society makes a demanding case for businesses to develop alternatives to the traditional hierarchical structures.

Henry Ford Video

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Production Line Video

The following video (see below) is interesting as it shows how the production line method of manufacturing perfected by Henry Ford (which he based on the Scientific Management theories of Frederick Taylor) is still being used today. In this particular case it’s a factory manufacturing hairdryers in Shenzen in China.

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Use the comments section below this post to provide your answers and to suggest additions to the answer of others.

  1. Outline ONE strength and ONE weakness of classical/scientific management theory.
  2. Explain why classical/scientific management theory is less widely used by businesses now than in the first half of the 20th century.

The original material that this post has been based on can be found at


  • #   scholsbiz on 10.26.07 at 3:01 am     

    Post your answers to the questions in this section.

  • #   mel on 10.31.07 at 5:52 pm     

    1. One strength of the Classical-Scientific Mgt theory is that there is a clear hierachial structure and a person’s authority within the organisation is clear, followed and not questioned.
    One weakness of the C-S mgt theory is that it does not allow for 2-way communication within the organisation. Those at the top of the chain of command are not encouraged to value the opinions of workers at the bottom of the chain.This dehumanisation can make a biz less creative and innovative and reduce efficiency and productivity within a biz.

    2. From the middle of the 20th C onwards, there has been increasing understanding of human behaviour; their needs and ideas. Elton Mayos studies have shown that workers benefit from a feeling of security within a team, and are more productive when they feel valued. The C-S mgt theory does not adequately meet the needs of all employees in a biz. In today’s society, workers, as stakeholders expect to be treated with respect within a biz situation, and more contemporary mgt theories allow for this.
    The C-S structure enforces the idea that workers are only useful as labourers, however todays bizs utilise the complex skills and ideas that an employee can bring to the organisation.
    Many contemporary biz required close communication to encourage brainstorming, teamwork and creativity. A more democratic leadership style allows for this communicaiton between workers and those above them in the chain of command.
    A flatter structure allows communication to be quicker and this is useful to deal with problems and issues quickly.
    In order to be competitive in the industry, a biz needs to be efficient and adaptable, and this can be achieved more readily with a more modern mgt theory instead of the C-S theory.

  • #   scholsbiz on 10.31.07 at 6:33 pm     

    Well constructed answers to both those questions mel. Question 2 also shows you have been reading ahead on Behavioural Mgt and been able to incorporate some of Elton Mayo’s findings in your argument as to why CS Mgt is no longer as widely used as it was in the past.
    Nice work…

  • #   class on 11.01.07 at 5:23 pm     

    yes..very good work

  • #   Monica :) on 11.01.07 at 9:13 pm     

    1- On strength of the classical-scientific management theory is that it is a bureacracy meaning that only one person has the authoirty to make and change decision. this person is allocated at the top of the hiercarchical structure and allocates the tasks that need to be completed but the rest of the employess. it also improves productivity through the division of labour allowing each employee to become specialised in that one aspect of the business.
    One weakness of this classical scientific management is that this theory consists of a long chain of command. this means it will take alot of time for information to be transferred down and can result in the info/news being outdated or late by the time it reacher the other end of the heirarchical structure.

    2- from the 20th century to the present day, there has been an increase in the realisation of how important employees/human resources are to a business. when employees feel welcomed and valued their effectiness and productiveness increases dramatically. as connotated by Mr Elton Mayos he believe that businesses success are resulted when the employees are appreciated which unfortuaetly is not provided through the scientific management theory. more businesses, in today’s society follow contemporary management theories as it provides employees with the respect and treatment they want and acknowldge the skills, talent and opinions they bring into the business. trade unions have been established in order from employees to gain the right treatment but the classical scientific managment doesnt believe emloyees should gain attention to that certain extent.
    less businesses today follw a autocractic, classical scientific managment theory as the society can only be maintined usin modern theories. A democratic leadership style is largely used when business are in the state of collating strategies to overcome changes as it bring more ideas, skills and team work.
    A flatter structure is also suggested as when the chain of command is too large it become difficult to maintain, misunderstandings can arise thought the transferrin og info and it takes to long. flatter structure will ensure that the info is processed quicker. therefore more businesses are usign modern theories to accommondate for our changing society and its is easier and more effective to the business as the business will be more success especially when employees are motivated, valued, flatter structure and there is a co-existence betweens managers and employees not just the employees do all the work while managers boss them around

  • #   Monica :) on 11.01.07 at 9:15 pm     

    it finally worked… that is not the good copy just got sick of re writin it so many times because it wouldnt go through so just checkin if it worked

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