Taylor and the Scientific Organization of Labor (OST)


At the turn of the 20th century, with the emergence of an industrial society marked by the rural exodus, we gradually left the model based on tradition and custom, to enter a rationalist model reinforced by the development of science and technology. .

We abandon the model of the workshop for that of the factory, which must find a new way of organizing its production to integrate the mechanization of work, the management of the workforce, competition and a growing demand for standardized products.

The classical school of organizations, based on an empirical current of thought referring to the practice of business leaders and engineers. Often when we speak of the classical school the intention is projected on the Taylorian system. Who says Taylor says a Scientific Labor Organization (OST)

Taylor’s biography

F.W. Taylor (USA, 1856-1917) is considered one of the founding members of organization theory. His personal background allows us to understand the origin of his work and his analytical framework. Coming from a wealthy family, he had to give up prestigious studies for health reasons.

This led him to begin his career as a simple worker in a metallurgical company. He will then quickly climb the hierarchical ladder of this company to become chief engineer.

This course leads him to master the different aspects of productive work (operational role, supervisory role and design role) and to develop a global vision of work in the workshop.

Taylor did most of his research in the United States in Pennsylvania, in a steel plant, that said he was constantly indignant at the inefficiency of the workers: they used several radically different techniques to achieve the same work. and tend to wander.

According to him, production therefore only reaches about a third of its maximum potential. He then decides to remedy this unpleasant situation by means of the scientific study of blue-collar jobs.

He has devoted 20 years of intensive research to determining the optimal way to perform each task based on determining a standard time through observation of workers at various times of the day.

example :

T0 == First observation of worker behavior in the morning

Tn == Second observation in the middle of the day.

Postulate of the scientific organization of work

In 1911, Taylor published a treatise entitled “Principles of Scientific Management” which is based on four main postulates.

First, Taylor affirms his faith in science, which should lead to a “scientific” method of management.

Second, he considers production management to be inefficient because the management is incompetent and poorly trained, and thus is of little use in advising workers in their daily tasks. Third, he thinks that companies too easily rely on exceptional men to deal with malfunctions, when performance could be greatly improved by implementing a systematic way of working.

Finally, Taylor criticizes the compensation system implemented in factories with a fixed salary which leads efficient workers to limit their production (lack of financial incentives to produce more).

Thus, the critical analysis of the situation of men at work leads Taylor to consider that the work of workers is arduous and does not allow men to be fully efficient, due to empirical rules that slow down the pace of work.

Principles of the scientific organization of work

The principles of scientific management are expressed by the association between science and management at the level of the organization of work. They aim to find ways to enable people to perform their tasks effectively at their workstation.

The solution proposed by Taylor to the problem of inefficiency which is the application of scientific methods to the analysis and improvement of the organization of tasks.

It amounts to defining very precisely the way in which the tasks must be organized and the roles that the different actors (workers and managers) must occupy in order to obtain optimal productivity.

This approach is based on several fundamental principles, ultimately, we can synthesize the fundamental contributions of Taylor from four principles:

The horizontal division of labor

It leads to the fragmentation of work, the specialization of tasks and the study of execution times in order to determine the “one best way”, the best way to do things through the timing of gestures.

The vertical division of labor

It aims to strictly distinguish the performers from the designers of the work. In this logic, this approach has led to dissociating the “blue collar” from the “white collar” as they have been commonly called in the industrial environment. This principle encourages placing the right man on the right place, the best person in the right place.

A pay-for-performance system

This system, based on work productivity bonuses, seeks to develop the motivation of people at work.

In addition to a standardization of tasks pushed to its maximum, Taylor wanted the establishment of piecework wages, supposed to constitute an important motivation for the workers whom he considered as rational agents consciously maximizing their monetary gains.

A work control system

Based on this principle of action, each gesture of the executing worker is monitored. This led to setting up foremen in the factories responsible for carrying out this control activity.

These principles of work organization are fundamentally based on the idea that it is possible to apply to human activity a common reasoning in experimental science since it is a question of observing, classifying facts, analyzing them and to draw from it laws having a general bearing on worker know-how.

This approach to human labor is actually the strength of the Taylorian system because the development of industrial knowledge and techniques continues to spread in this way.

Followers and Successors of Frederick W. Taylor

Frank Bunker Gilbreth and Henry L. Gantt are the two major personalities in the current of thought devoted to scientific management. Continuators of the work of Frederick W. Taylor, they developed his principles of scientific organization of work.

a) Frank Bunker Gilbreth (1868-1924)

This engineer broke down and analyzed the elementary movements (micro-movements) to accomplish a job. Lillian Gilbreth (1878-1972), his wife, Doctor of Psychology, carried out work on the psychology of work. The Gilbreths had twelve children, six boys and six girls, whom they brought up, for the record, by applying the principles of scientific organization.

If Taylor timed the movements of workers to assess the time spent performing a task, thus preventing them from “wasting their time” (study of time), the Gilbreth spouses did not proceed in the same way.

Their experiments will not use the stopwatch. They will choose to analyze daily gestures which they will break down into elementary gestures, with the aim of eliminating unnecessary gestures and improving performance, while reducing fatigue (study of movements).

The workers, for Frank Bunker Gilbreth, should not be controlled or monitored. On this point, he will oppose Taylor’s theories before considering Shop Management as a “bible”. In 1930, Gilbreth’s “study of movements” was recognized in the United States as a discipline in its own right and distinct from Taylor’s “study of time”.

THERBLIGH is the name given to a list and a table of basic work units indicating the totality of movements to which industrial work could be reduced. It will be noted that THERBLIGS is the anagram of the Gilbreth spouses.

b) Henry L. Gantt (1861-1919)

This American engineer worked at the Midvale Steel Company where he met F.W. Taylor who was then chief engineer. He will become a fervent follower of the scientific organization of work which he will endeavor to disseminate, as a consultant, to many companies.

The first to associate the notions of activity and time, he invented the “Gantt chart”, a simple schedule of realization allowing to visualize the sequence and the duration of the works.

The Gantt schedule is a schedule focused on the task schedule. This representation gives, on the abscissa, a time scale and, on the ordinate, the tasks concerned. Reading this graph is easy and presents no risk of misinterpretation.

The Gantt schedule is still, today, a reference tool in scheduling and project management. Gantt will campaign for more
democracy in the company and will develop the social aspect of the organization of work.


“Re-Taylorization” or “neo-Taylorism” is, again, a hot topic in industry, services (data entry) and “fast food” restaurants.

Indeed, IT and new means of communication have made it possible to develop teleworking, in particular with the use of work flow, hotline and call center type systems. But this new form of work, which affects the entire population of employees and managers, has multiplied the repetitive and monotonous tasks, inducing moreover stress associated with the required objectives.

Reviews and Controversies

The OST has been criticized for its tendency to dehumanize the worker by viewing him as a machine. The workers felt alienated and undervalued, which led to protest movements and strikes.


Taylor’s scientific organization of work has had a major impact on how companies approach productivity and employee management. Although criticized for its dehumanization of work, the OST has paved the way for more in-depth reflection on the balance between efficiency and employee well-being.



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