F.Taylor’s Experiment with Pig Iron: A Start for Scientific Management

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The beginning of the 20th century was a high time for either business owners or managers to start realizing significant research on productivity was very much needed. Since economic and social background was rapidly changing, it was important to understand what could bring more profits already in the short run.

In 1911 The Principles of Scientific Management, a research conducted by Frederick W. Taylor, was published. The book made a profound impact on what is now called management (in fact, it has given it a real, scientific start). We now refer to him as one of the founding fathers of management.

In this article we will focus on the experiment with pig iron conducted by Taylor during his work at the steel factory as it provides us with great understanding of the nature of productivity.

Major Problems Affecting Productivity

Being an engineer, Taylor had a perfect insight into how the work was being done by ordinary workers. In his research he had outlined what decreased productivity most of all:

  • workers’ negligence;
  • low safety standards at production which led to numerous injuries;
  • poor work organization and distribution of resources;
  • soldiering (workers purposefully working below their abilities as a response to low wages, fear to lose the job and rule of thumb method).

F.Taylor’s Experiment with Pig Iron: A Start for Scientific Management

While working for Midvale Steel Company, Taylor needed to find ways to make workers operate faster and better. In his experiment with pig iron he decided to research whether it was possible to make them move 47 tons of pig iron instead of 12 ½ tons. It was, as it later turned out.

So, what did Taylor do? First of all, he selected a certain amount of physically fit, enduring men who had strength enough to work more. In fact, he found out that only about 12,5% of men already employed were really fit to work in the steel industry.

Second of all, he ordered these men to follow instructions of their supervisors precisely, no matter how strange they could have seemed – have short rest during the day, sit down for a while, distract from work, etc. (at that times workers could hardly take frequent breaks or go for a stroll so these orders seemed really weird to them).

Next, Taylor divided the work into several operations and tracked exact time needed to perform them. Average rates for the whole industry were thus defined and workers wishing to keep their jobs were obliged to follow them.

Also, Taylor found out that if the workers were left to decide how they could organize their work on their own they failed to perform better. On the contrary, if supervisors kept an eye on the work / rest ratio laborers could lift 47 tons a day without tiring. Such system proved that what was previously done by 500 workers could instead be done by 140.

Workers’ Collective Image or Who Was Schmidt?

To personalize his research and make his results more illustrative, Taylor often referred to a man called Schmidt. Being fond of using parables in his studies, he tried to describe a typical worker of the then steel industry.

Schmidt, an embodiment of rough, uneducated men doing hard work every day, was a perfect prototype to get a better insight into why productivity was low and what could motivate the ordinary worker to do more.

There was indeed no man called Schmidt, of course. However, this metaphor enabled Taylor to make an important generalization – the most important motivator for such men was money and through material reward it was possible to make him work better.

Results of the Experiment

Taylor concluded from the experiment with pig iron:

  • it’s absolutely necessary that only workers really capable of performing each specific task were employed;
  • rule of thumb had to be substituted with a much more effective method – material reward;
  • workers should be allowed enough rest and better work conditions.

Generally this meant:

  • productivity of labor could be increased by 3 to 4 times;
  • wages for the remaining workers could be 60% higher.

Taylor’s fundamental research enabled managers to finally assess performance and productivity on scientific grounds, with less guesswork and more facts. In fact, we still continue to benefit from it even today.

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