How is Lean Different From Taylorism? | Michael Ballé | LEI

“They are completely different indeed. They differ in their purpose, their practice and their outcomes. Lean is about self-reflection and seeking smarter, less wasteful dynamic solutions together. Taylorism is about static optimization of work imposed by ‘those who know’ on ‘those who do.'”

Sourced through from:


Michel Baudin‘s comments:

Yes, “Scientific Management” was just a marketing label for theories that weren’t truly scientific but were instead based on a simplistic view of human nature. And Taylor’s stopwatch time studies were just aimed at increasing production at every operation with no consideration of flow. I would, however, ask for a more accurate and complete story

I would start with the timeline. It is easy to check. For example, Taylor couldn’t have had many brilliant insights in “mid-nineteenth century” because he wasn’t born until 1856. Also, the Toyota Production System originated before 1960.

The time matters because everything changed in America between 1850 and 1900, as it did in Japan between 1930 and 1960. By 1900, the American manufacturing industry had sprouted companies with tens of thousands of employees, employing many non-English speakers straight from farms in Eastern and Southern Europe, with primary school educations at best. It is quite possible that the communication challenges with the work force played a role in shaping Taylor’s perceptions.

Toyota’s post-war workforce was comprised of native Japanese speakers, like their managers, and, like their American counterparts, better educated than 50 years earlier. As a result, some management approaches could work with them that Taylor wouldn’t have thought possible in 1900.

The article also implicitly attributes Ford’s mass production system to Taylor. The Ford people would disagree with this, but it is a common and deliberate confusion made by French unions. In their literature, words like “taylorism” and “toyotism” also  serve to create further confusion and paint both as ideological smokescreens used by evil employers.

The article also omits some of Taylor’s actual contributions. This includes technical work like the invention of high-speed steel and the theory of functional foremanship which, while never used as he prescribed, defined the list of support departments found today in just about any manufacturing facility. See Fairness to Frederick Taylor  and Lean’s Midlife Crisis.

See on Scoop.itlean manufacturing

2 comments on “How is Lean Different From Taylorism? | Michael Ballé | LEI

  1. We can only hope that Lean adds as much too human prosperity in the 21st century as Taylorism did in the 19th and 20th. As an industrial engineer in the 1960’s our role models were the American automotive and machine tool industries and we saw Taylor and the Gilbreths as the founders of this system of productivity improvement. From their work developed time and motion study, O and M and industrial engineering. When I moved into the machine tool and metal cutting industries, I was again influenced by Taylor’s work on metal cutting, particularly his equation VT n=C

    I am sure Ford and his team must be given credit for creating what we now call mass production, but they were assisted by the work of Taylor and the Gilbreths.–
    We must remember the world of the later years of the 19th century was very different; the attitude to workers was not what we would accept today, but it was the environment within which Taylor operated.–

    Having operated in both the Taylor and Toyota worlds, I see them a continuum of progress. Taiichi Ohno was sent to America to study their method and match their productivity. The main problem he faced, though I think it turned into major advantage, was the fact he only had a fraction of their volumes and investment budgets. He was therefore forced to work with smaller batch sizes and had to increase flexibility and ingenuity. —

    Taylor was brought before a senate committee in 1912 to defend his system. I like to think we can see his real motivation in one of his replies.–

    Chairman Wilson. “What is the economic necessity for increasing production?” —
    Taylor. “The whole world suffers now, as it always has from underproduction. Underproduction is responsible for low wages, and the reason the poor have fewer things in terms of the basics and luxuries to live on. Have poorer food to eat, pay higher prices for their rent, can afford fewer clothes.–

    The only way to bring this thing into the world is to increase production. Scientific management is about greatly increasing the output of the man, without materially increasing his effort.–

    I firmly believe in the next hundred years the wealth of the world will grow to such an extent that the workman of the day will live almost as well as the business man lives now, both as to the necessities and the luxuries of life.” —

    When I compare the life of my great-grandfather with the modern worker, Taylor’s words were prophetic. Great grandfather was a horse drawn wagon driver, lived with great-grandma and six children in a rented two-up and two-down house with no running water. The average worker of today has a car, house, mobile phone, a house full of labour saving devices, several TV’s and holidays etc. etc. —

    Whilst there may be differing opinions about Taylor, I would leave the last word to someone we all admire; Peter Drucker. —

    “In 1881, an American, Frederick Winslow Taylor (1856-1915), first applied knowledge to the study of work, the analysis of work, and the engineering of work. —
    By 1930, Taylor’s Scientific Management, despite resistance from unions and from intellectuals, had swept the developed world. As a result, Marx’s ‘proletarian’ became a ‘bourgeois.’ The blue-collar worker in manufacturing industry, the ‘proletarian’ rather than the ‘capitalist,’ became the true beneficiary of Capitalism and Industrial Revolution. This explains the total failure of Marxism in the highly developed countries for which Marx had predicted ‘revolution’ by 1900. It explains why the Great Depression did not lead to Communist revolution. By that time, Marx’s proletarians had not yet become affluent, but they had become middle class. They had become productive. —

    Darwin, Marx, Freud form the trinity often cited as the ‘makers of the modern world.’ Marx would be taken out and replaced by Taylor if there were any justice in the world. But that Taylor is not given his due is a minor matter. It is a serious matter that far too few people realize that the application of knowledge to work created developed economies by setting off the productivity explosion of the last hundred years.” —
    — From Post-Capitalist Society,

    • I suspect there must be a typo in “his equation VT n=C.” Could you explain what equation you are referring to?

      Also, among the many things Peter Drucker got wrong, Taylor was not the first to “apply knowledge to the study of work.” According to biographer Michael White in Isaac Newton: The Last Sorcerer, Newton conducted a stopwatch time study at the London Mint in 1696.

      I also think mentioning Taylor and the Gilbreths in the same breath is not fair to the Gilbreths, because they were studying work with different goals: Taylor to prevent operators slacking off, the Gilbreths to make the work easier to do.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *