Sly-entific Management 2

... Continued from here.

Henry Laurence Gantt is not remembered as the Father of Scientific Management, but he was present at the birth. He knew the mother well. He worked 'under' Frederick Winslow Taylor at Midvale and Bethlehem, and was one of the four people closest to Taylor professionally. He knew how Taylor operated, and may have operated in the same autocratic way. It's a curious fact of history that most of the attempts to implement Scientific Management failed, and every implementation was achieved only by autocratic command.

Yea, I know, much of the literature of the time speaks glowingly of Scientific Management as the key to cooperation between worker and owner, but in practice, Taylor's methods tended to further disconnect worker and owner, replacing their separate judgments with an internal planning department. Taylor was famously bull-headed, insisting that everyone just get with his program or out of his way. He routinely screamed at workmen, and fired any who crossed him. I'm sure he would have fired owners, too, if he could have. At Bethlehem, he befriended a member of the board and ignored executive management, who complained endlessly about his unapproved expenses. His board benefactor defended him. And Gantt was there through those times, too.

Gantt worked with this despot for nearly twenty years, so he was at least complicit. But after he and Taylor were fired by Bethlehem Steel, Gantt sought work on his own. His stories about implementing Scientific Management read like they were written by an engineer. (They were.) They are filled with the enthusiasms of someone convinced that they are on a holy mission.

But Taylor and Gantt had a falling out in 1913. Gantt had started espousing the necessity of listening to the 'workmen,' of working with them rather than simply ordering them around as if they were dumb cattle. This, alone, was probably enough to earn him excommunication from Taylor's sanctuary, but this was just the start.

Shortly before he died, Gantt wrote an essay entitled A Parting of the Ways. In this essay, he proclaimed that the pursuit of profits above service to the community was responsible for a whole raft of industrial ills. He spoke like a Utopian Socialist, even encouraging thirty-some engineers to create a splinter group of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers entitled The New Machine.

Gantt, like many efficiency engineers volunteered to work with the war production boards set up by the Wilson administration. These boards were governed by citizens, had no statutory authority, yet managed industrial production during the war years. They could not command anything done, though they could and did control allocation of critical resources. In flagrant violation of the Sherman Antitrust Statues, they called competitors together and encouraged them to cooperate to produce war material. But understanding the need to continue producing baby clothes, for instance, these boards ended up managing much of the economy for the duration of the war.

This was sweet work for Gantt, who maintained his deep belief that facts rather than opinion should determine critical decisions. He had no faith in the debating society politics that prevailed on Capitol Hill, and Congress was largely silent on the question of board control, save for a few impassioned floor speeches. The engineers went about telling industries how to produce and what to produce without getting too sideways to any free-marketeer.

Gantt looked at this experience and had a difficult time rationalizing the free market after than. And if anything, Gantt was rational. One historian claims that Gantt died just before history judged his beliefs absurd. Yet today, it's easy to swoon a bit over his logic. There's no greater curse for a logical, rational engineer than to be labeled Utopian. Yet, a decade after his death, the American Management Association began awarding an annual H. L. Gantt award for service to the community. Some of his message survived.

Taylor never spoke to Gantt again after their split, though Gantt spoke warmly of Taylor's genius. All of these people were missionaries, prophets, occasional heretics. How their radical ideas finally infected and influenced mainstream industry takes some explaining. It was as accidental a convergence as any. There's much more to tell. (to be continued ...)


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