Friday, April 7, 2006

Taylorism in IT

Recently Gartner started a blog named Unconventional Thinking, and I was particularly triggered by a posting by Richard Hunter. He expects that although the concept of scientific management dates from the early 20th century, there is great potential in it for IT to change how executives run the show. He thinks the next big wave is automation that changes the way managers, not frontline employees, work.

Personally, I do not think this is going to happen because, in fact, it already is happening. Like with so many changes that involve IT, our IT organizations show the first signs of such a type of Taylorism. The most eminent example of the practical application of scientific management or Taylorism has always been the assembly line. And what have we done the past years in IT departments? Exactly, we have created assembly lines.
What do we want when managing IT departments? Speed and predictability. Exactly the same keywords that most are used throughout scientific management.

This of course applies particularly to the operational processes of IT (some might argue that this applies for the people that do the real work). However, at the tactical and strategic level there has also been an increase in Tayloristic management principles. Corporate Performance Management (CPM) and increased data mining capabilities fuel the more quantitative way in which departments are run. Managers and their superiors agree upon key performance indicators (KPIs), and are increasingly evaluated against those.

I think technology areas such as business intelligence and service-oriented applications will benefit greatly from this evolvement, as it relies heavily on having the right information at the right time.
The increased transparency in organizations and processes allow an increased emphasis on delivering results at the highest possible level of efficiency. This will not only be for the normal workers, but also for management.

However, one of the founding fathers of this approach (actually the synonym was named after him) Frederick Taylor does not have the best of perceptions of mankind:

Now one of the very first requirements for a man who is fit to handle pig iron as a regular occupation is that he shall be so stupid and so phlegmatic that he more nearly resembles in his mental make-up the ox than any other type.

All I can say is that for some reason I feel that this perception of people does not fit very well with the current culture in most organizations. Also, transparency has an undeniable other effect on organizations: there is no longer an information monopoly for top management, in fact there are numerous examples where the people on the work floor outsmart the executives, because they are better informed. So my prediction is that scientific management will certainly become an increasingly popular concept in IT, but the technology it needs for further expansion, will also limit its impact, as the mirror has two faces.

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