Tag Archives: Frederick Winslow Taylor

Frank & Lillian Gilbreth: Time and Motion

In the modern world, we often wonder how we maximise our productivity, so we can have a successful work life and also a thriving family life. Two people who could have told us about that  were Frank and Lillian Gilbreth. They did not just, together and separately, make significant contributions to management theory.

They also had (together) 12 children. Cheaper by the dozen, Frank Gilbreth was once reported to have said. But it was Lillian’s work that continued after Frank’s early death after only 20 years  of marriage. And she continued as a researcher, as well as being a single mum!

Frank Gilbreth & Lillian Gilbreth

Frank Gilbreth & Lillian Gilbreth

Frank Gilbreth

Frank Gilbreth was born in Maine, in 1868. Passing up on the opportunity to study at MIT because he wanted to support his mum, he became a bricklayer. But his intelligence meant that, by the age of 27, he had his own engineering consultancy, Gilbreth Inc.

He had been watching how bricklayers laid bricks, observing as many as 18 independent movements. Gilbreth would later label these motions ‘therbligs’ (see below). By deploying unskilled labourers, Gilbreth radically reduced the number of motions and increased bricklaying rates from 1,000 per hour, to 2,700. It is the same principle that means surgeons no longer riffle through a tray to find the implement they need: now nurses find and pass the instruments.

In 1903, Gilbreth met Lillian Moller in Boston, and they married the following year. Gilbreth soon got his wife interested in the new ideas of Scientific Management and Taylorism – the scientific management principles set out by FW Taylor. They met Taylor in 1907 and were in Henry Gantt’s apartment when the term ‘scientific management’ was coined.

Gilbreth believed that companies which gained from his time-saving advice should share the benefits with employees, rather that use the gain only to increase profits. So he only contracted with companies that promised to increase wages where his methods brought results. Among his clients were Eastman Kodak, U.S. Rubber, and Pierce Arrow. When the United States entered the First World War, Gilbreth enlisted and was commissioned into the Engineers Officers Reserve Corps.

While his focus was on the time and motion aspects of work efficiency, Lillian would come to focus on the human aspect. They complemented one another well, and also adopted the Gantt Chart in the work, extending the idea to develop  the first flow charts. They were convinced that there was a best way to do anything and in timing everything and tracking processes to reduce steps, they pre-empted the late 20th and early 21st century fashions for continuous improvement, process re-engineering, and lean management.

Frank Gilbreth died in 1924, of a heart attack.

Lillian Moller Gilbreth

Lillian Moller was born in 1878, in California. After a period of home schooling and then high school, Moller commuted to the University of California, Berkeley. There, she achieved her BA in English literature. after a short time at Columbia, where she first studied psychology, she returned to UC Berkeley to complete an MA in English Lit in 1902 and then studied there for her PhD. Denied it on a technicality, she went travelling and met Frank Gilbreth in Boston.

Continuing her travels, the Gilbreths were married in 1904, after she returned, and moved to Rhode Island in 1910. She resumed doctoral studies at Brown University, starting again, and achieving her PhD in psychology, in 1915. Her focus was far more on the human side of workplace efficiency.

After Frank Gilbreth died, Lillian continued their joint work, accepting consulting work through Gilbreth, Inc. In 1935, she became the first female professor in the engineering school at Purdue University, becoming known as ‘The First Lady of Management’. She was, without doubt, a pioneer of industrial psychology. Lilian Gilbreth died in 1972.

Time and Motion

The Gilbreths took a rigorously scientific approach to understanding the way employees carried out work, sometimes measuring time and motion to 1/2000 of a second, using photography and  a ‘microchronometer’ that they devised. With flow charts and therbligs, they analysed to a fine degree.


In many languages, the ‘th’ sound is one letter (theta in Greek, for example). Replace the th in Gilbreth with a single phoneme and reverse the word, and you get ‘therblig’. This is a coinage by Frank Gilbreth that never made it to the mainstream. But the idea is ingenious.

Each therblig is a distinct motion that a worker makes. it is a fundamental element of work and there are 18 of these basic motions. Today we’d no doubt add moving a mouse and hitting return. Ever since I heard the ugly word and looked it up, I’ve loved the concept and the list of movements. Look up therblig on Wikipedia to see the list of 18, and their symbols.

Henry Gantt: The Gantt Chart

Who invented the Gantt Chart? This is a question I ask in many of my project management seminars, and the commonest answer/guess is ‘Mr Gantt’. Why does nobody suggest Mrs Gantt? In fact, neither answer is properly correct. But nonetheless, the Gantt Chart is Henry Gantt’s enduring legacy. But there was more to him as a manager and thinker than that.

Henry Gantt

Short Biography

Henry Laurence Gantt was born in the southern US state of Maryland in 1861; the year the Civil War started. As one of my reference books puts it, the war ‘brought about changes to the family fortunes’. His parents were slave owners.

Gantt graduated from Johns Hopkins University in 1880 and, after a few years of teaching, qualified as a Mechanical Engineer in 1984, with a master’s degree from the Stevens Institute of Technology in New Jersey.

After three years working as a draughtsman in Baltimore, he joined the Midvale Steel Works in 1887. This is where FW Taylor was Chief Engineer, and Taylor was to become a mentor and important intellectual influence on Gantt. The two worked well together, and Gantt followed Taylor first to Simmonds Rolling Company and then to Bethlehem Steel.

They went their separate ways in 1900, and in 1901, Taylor endorsed Gantt as the best person to have as a consultant for implementing their shared principles of scientific management. This led to a successful career for Gantt; working with many large corporations. From this point on, though, Gantt was clearly thinking for himself and diverging from some of Taylor’s more extreme ‘scientific principles’.

It was in 1917 that Gantt ‘invented’ the now famous Gantt Chart, as a way to speed the construction of naval vessels during World War 1.

Gantt wrote two books – both out of print – and there is also a set of lecture notes available. Beware print-on-demand reproductions – some get poor reviews. His 1911 book, ‘Work, Wages and Profits’, focused on incentivising workers and marked a shift from Taylor’s penal approach to piece rates. In 1919 – the year of his death – he published ‘Organising for Work’. This marked an early contribution to the field we would now refer to a Corporate and Social Responsibility (CSR).

Gantt’s Ideas

We can summarise Gantt’s management thinking under three headings: incentivisation, task management, and corporate responsibility.

Workers’ Incentives

Taylor’s approach to incentivising workers was the piece rate system – getting paid only for the work you do. Gantt moved away from this idea, noting that motivation works best when you reward good work, rather than punishing poor work. So Gantt’s approach was to offer a base wage, with bonuses to workers who performed beyond a certain level. This meant that workers in the learning stages of their roles could earn a decent wage and led to a doubling of production levels.

He went on to provide additional incentives, most notably to foremen. This would recognise the collective efficiency of a work team and provided encouragement for on-the-job training. Gantt had clearly departed a long way from Taylor’s thinking, in the direction of humanistic management, when he wrote in ‘Work, Wages and Profits’:

‘the general policy of the past has been to drive; but the era of force must give way to that of knowledge, and the policy of the future will be to teach and lead, to the advantage of all concerned.’

Gantt was a close contemporary of Mary Parker Follett, with whose thinking this aligns, but I can find no reference suggesting that they knew one another. He was, however, a good friend of Frank and Lillian Gilbreth.

Corporate Responsibility

In ‘Organising for Work’, Gantt set out an agenda for corporate responsibility to society. He argued that the cold ‘buy low: sell high’ approach to business would not meet the challenges of business leadership in the twentieth century. He placed far more emphasis on the role of executives in motivation and efficiency that did Taylor – who saw workers largely as automata.

As he distanced himself from Taylor, he held that businesses have a duty to serve their communities, using the phrase ‘social responsibility’.

Task Management

There is no doubt, however, that Gantt is best remembered (only remembered?) for the Gantt Chart. This is a representation of tasks as bars on a chart that plots a list of tasks down the left hand side and sets a time line from left to right. Each task is shown as a bar. The length of the bar represents the duration of the task, and the placing represents its scheduling. Shading of the bar can represent levels of completion.

This was one of many different charts that Gantt developed, to help make work easier to plan and manage. This was him at his most ‘scientific’.  In his early career, he said that scientific analysis is the only route to industrial effectiveness.

So, did Henry Gantt invent the Gantt Chart?

We will never know if he was aware or not (I suspect not) but the same chart had indeed been ‘invented’ in 1896 by Karol Adamiecki. Adamiecki was a Polish economist and engineer, whose misfortune, if you like, was to publish in Polish and Russian. So, his writings received little attention outside of those countries and we now have the Gantt Chart, rather than the Harmonograph (Adamiecki’s favoured name) or the Adamiecki Chart. It is not clear to me when Adamiecki’s work was available – references I can find suggest he only published in 1931.

Who cares?

Apart from pride of authorship (among two long dead men) or nationalistic pride (between Poland and the US), there is little value in worrying who invented it. I’d be prepared to bet that if we had marks in the sand preserved from the ancient builders of Egypt, Sumer, Meso-America, Cambodia… somewhere we’d find a bar chart scratched out hundreds or thousands of years ago. What matters is the phenomenally wide usage this chart has.

The Gantt Chart is seen as a cornerstone of modern project management, yet it is hard to imagine the impact it had in the 1920s and 1930s, on US industry and Soviet Union central planning. And it has barely changed in the last 100 years. The only real difference is the technology we use to produce the charts and the consequent ease we have in using them to drive calculations.

For this, Henry Gantt does deserve to be remembered. So to, though, does Karel Adamiecki.

Styles of Management

The Management Pocketbooks Pocket Correspondence Course

This is part of an extended management course. You can dip into it, or follow the course from the start. If you do that, you may want a course notebook, for the exercises and any notes you want to make.

In the ‘good old days’ – good old days for managers, that is – there was one style of management:

Tell them what to do – expect them to do it – punish them if they don’t

Life must have been easy then for managers: no need to motivate people (more on that in coming weeks), no back chat and alternative ideas from staff, no worry about giving offence, and high levels of compliance.

Scientific Management

On the other hand, how efficient were workers then? Frederick Winslow Taylor wanted to apply the principles of science to management and was the first person to try to analyse an organisation, test his ideas with experiments, and document the results.

‘Taylorism’ treated people as cogs in a machine. Optimise all aspects of the process, including people, to get the best results. So Taylor introduced time and motion studies to optimise how workers did things, and piece rates as incentives for workers. He said ‘do it this way and you will get your reward’. This was scientific management.

Humanistic Management

Scientific Management largely failed. Yes, it led to the hugely successful production line and arguably to just-in-time concepts too. Six Sigma, TQM and Lean can all draw their origins from scientific management too.

But it failed as regards people. Elton Mayo was a follower of Taylor and tried to apply Taylorist principle in the Hawthorne Lighting Plant. He discovered that changing light levels changed work rates. But it didn’t matter how you changed the light levels, as long as you engaged the workers in the process. What mattered was engaging people. It still does – that’s why staff engagement is such a big deal.

Theory X or Theory Y

The tension between task focus and people focus was crystallised by Douglas McGregor in his models of management style called Theory X (task, transaction, process, incentive focused) and Theory Y (people, consensus, motivation, satisfaction focused).

These are reflected in two contrasting styles of day-to-day management: Management by Objectives (MBO) and Management by Walking About (MWA).

MBO is all about setting clear objectives to staff and supporting them in achieving them – it is formal, transactional and has been seen as highly successful. For example, Bill Packard attributed the success of Hewlett Packard in its heyday to MBO.

But strangely, Bill Packard was well known for wandering around all areas of his business, chatting with people, building relationships, sharing ideas and offering inspiration.


There is no ‘right’ style of management. We each need to find the right balance, that works for us. We also need to adapt that balance to each individual and to changing circumstances.

Balance of Management Styles

Further Reading 

You may also like the Pockeblog articleIt’s time to get enabling

Three Six Sigma Articles

  1. Belt up and Reduce Errors
  2. The DMAIC Solution Process
  3. Six Tools from Six Sigma

Crazy Times again

FW TaylorFrederick Winslow Taylor was the first management thinker to try to analyse an organisation, test his ideas with experiments, and document the results.

Today we recognise him as the father of ‘Scientific Management’, a term coined by lawyer Louis Brandeis and used by Taylor in the title of his book, ‘The Principles of Scientific Management’.

Taylor became famous for one experiment – and at the same time, invented the ‘piece rate’ – payment per item made or task completed.

Midvale Steel Works

Taylor was working at the Midvale Steel Works in Philadelphia when he realised that factory processes could be optimised from the fairly random state he found them in. If he could find the ‘best’ way to fulfil a task, he could maximise efficiency.

The first problem he directed his attention to was the cutting of steel. At the Midvale Steel Works, Taylor tried out a whole range of experiments to find the best way to cut steel, and to shovel coal. Later, at the Bethlehem Iron Works, he took up the challenge to increase the amount of 32 inch iron bars a man could shift in a day.  He measured the rate of work before starting his experiments at 13 tons per day.  As well as suggesting alternative methods, Taylor offered ‘piece rates’ to the men.

Midvale Steel Works

The Victory of Incentives

One worker, called Henry Noll, was particularly motivated by incremental payment, because he was also building a house. Noll shifted an astonishing 47 tons of iron a day.  As a result, he got to take home 60% more in his wages: $1.85 compared to $1.15 which his fellow workers got.

The Story Shifted

Of course, Scientific Management was not the last word, and researchers like Elton Mayo – who set out to provide further evidence for Taylor’s theories – were to counter it powerfully with a radical alternative: ‘Democratic Management’.

‘The change which you and your associates are working to effect will not be mechanical but humane.’

Elton Mayo

And now we are in Crazy Times… again

One modern management thinker has done more to rail against Scientific Management than any other.  And he does so with a charisma and a showmanship that eclipses any of his peers.  Love him or hate him (and many do each), it is hard to ignore the influence of Tom Peters.

Tom PetersTom Peters has come to speak and write in demotic, didactic, explosive language that makes it hard for some to take him seriously.  Academic and dry, he is not.  So many criticise what appears to be his flippancy and glibness.  However, he has been way ahead on just about every management and organisational trend in my lifetime. [21 years? Ed]

Tom Peters is capable of solid research and a more dusty style, and has written much in that format, but his more recent works have adopted a distinct style of challenging his readers and audience to think.  He will stretch your concepts beyond breaking point and hope that, when you mend them, they have given up a measure of slack.

One of his most astonishing seminars and books was Crazy Times call for Crazy Organisations – in the mid 1990s.

Well, things are going crazy again folks.  Time to dust off some Tom Peters, and challenge today’s orthodoxy, if you want to stay ahead for tomorrow.  Here’s some classic Peters…