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The Principles of Scientific Management

Today marks the birthday of nineteenth century mechanical engineer, Frederick Winslow Taylor (1856 –1915) whose Principles of Scientific Management, published in 1911, was the first observation and study of a workforce and how to improve its efficiency.

It’s been over 100 years since Taylor recognised the need to dispel the myth that working at a consistently high production rate would result in there not being enough work to go around. Efficiency is still at the heart of industry production, as it was in the early 1900s.

Early on in his career Taylor worked at a steelworks where he observed many men soldiering, meaning they were working at the slowest possible rate they could without receiving any punishment for being unproductive. This behaviour of intentionally restricting the effort put into work was resulting in lower productivity than was achievable, and was widespread.

Taylor recognised the need to reassess management and how a project is approached by those who are in charge of it to improve its output. Using his own personal experience working as a labourer and then manager in manufacturing, Taylor established four key rules for a more efficient business process, which he laid out in his Principles of Scientific Management. The main four principles were:

  1. Replace working by “rule of thumb,” or simple habit and common sense, and instead use the scientific method to study work and determine the most efficient way to perform specific tasks.
  2. Rather than simply assign workers to just any job, match workers to their jobs based on capability and motivation, and train them to work at maximum efficiency.
  3. Monitor worker performance, and provide instructions and supervision to ensure that they’re using the most efficient ways of working.
  4. Allocate the work between managers and workers so that the managers spend their time planning and training, allowing the workers to perform their tasks efficiently.

These points are not flawless, and have received criticism over the past century, but despite that Taylor’s four principles are still used by management staff today.

At the heart of these principles is a school of thought that is still relevant and is ideal to apply to the oil and gas industry. Breaking habits and experimenting scientifically to determine a new method of working can lead to greater productivity and reward both management and a workforce in equal measure.

The North Sea oil and gas sector has had a testing few months, with a plummet in oil price and a long wait for tax changes to support future business. We have spoken about the need for more collaboration and shared working, something which the industry has been guilty of failing to do well in previous years. Just as Taylor stepped back and analysed industrial mills, our industry needs to be conscious that we put into action the strategies which we have agreed on in the past few months. Now is the time to stick to our own principles and ensure a more efficient oil and gas industry.