industrial management

industrial management, term applied to highly organized modern methods of carrying on industrial, especially manufacturing, operations.

The Rise of Factories

Before the Industrial Revolution people worked with hand tools, manufacturing articles in their own homes or in small shops. In the third quarter of the 18th cent. steam power was applied to machinery, and people and machines were brought together under one roof in factories, where the manufacturing process could be supervised. This was the beginning of shop management. In the next hundred years factories grew rapidly in size, in degree of mechanization, and in complexity of operation. The growth, however, was accompanied by much waste and inefficiency. In the United States many engineers, spurred by the increased competition of the post–Civil War era, began to seek ways of improving plant efficiency.

The Development of Industrial Management

Studies of Worker Performance

The first sustained effort in the direction of improved efficiency was made by Frederick Winslow Taylor, an assistant foreman in the Midvale Steel Company, who in the 1880s undertook a series of studies to determine whether workers used unnecessary motions and hence too much time in performing operations at a machine. Each operation required to turn out an article or part was analyzed and studied minutely, and superfluous motions were eliminated. Records were kept of the performance of workers and standards were adopted for each operation. The early studies resulted in a faster pace of work and the introduction of rest periods.

Management of the Machine

Industrial management also involves studying the performance of machines as well as people. Specialists are employed to keep machines in good working condition and to ensure the quality of their production. The flow of materials through the plant is supervised to ensure that neither workers nor machines are idle. Constant inspection is made to keep output up to standard. Charts are used for recording the accomplishment of both workers and machines and for comparing them with established standards. Careful accounts are kept of the cost of each operation. When a new article is to be manufactured it is given a design that will make it suitable for machine production, and each step in its manufacture is planned, including the machines and materials to be used.

Other Aspects of Management

The principles of scientific management have been gradually extended to every department of industry, including office work, financing, and marketing. Soon after 1910 American firms established the first personnel departments, and eventually some of the larger companies took the lead in creating environments conducive to worker efficiency. Safety devices, better sanitation, plant cafeterias, and facilities for rest and recreation were provided, thus adding to the welfare of employees and enhancing morale. Many such improvements were made at the insistence of employee groups, especially labor unions.

Over the years, workers and their unions also sought and often won higher wages and increased benefits, including group health and life insurance and liberal retirement pensions. During the 1980s and 1990s, however, cutbacks and downsizing in many American businesses substantially reduced many of these benefits. Some corporations permit employees to buy stock; others make provision for employee representation on the board of directors or on the shop grievance committee. Many corporations provide special opportunities for training and promotion for workers who desire advancement, and some have made efforts to solve such difficult problems as job security and a guaranteed annual wage.

Modern Trends

Modern technological devices, particularly in the areas of computers, electronics, thermodynamics, and mechanics, have made automatic and semiautomatic machines a reality. The development of such automation is bringing about a second industrial revolution and is causing vast changes in commerce as well as the way work is organized. Such technological changes and the need to improve productivity and quality of products in traditional factory systems also changed industrial management practices. In the 1960s Swedish automobile companies discovered that they could improve productivity with a system of group assembly. In a contrast to older manufacturing techniques where a worker was responsible for assembling only one part of the car, group assembly gave a group of workers the responsibility for assembling an entire car.

The system was also applied in Japan, where managers developed a number of other innovative systems to lower costs and improve the quality of products. One Japanese innovation, known as quality circles, allowed workers to offer management suggestions on how to make production more efficient and to solve problems. Workers were also given the right to stop the assembly line if something went wrong, a sharp departure from U.S. factories. By carefully controlling the manufacturing process, Japanese managers were able to cut waste, improve productivity, and reduce inventory, thus significantly reducing costs and improving quality. By the early 1980s, Japanese companies, which had once been criticized for producing for producing low-quality goods, had established a reputation for efficiently producing high-quality, high-tech products. In the 1980s and early 90s many U.S. companies looked to increase their competitiveness by adapting Japanese methods for improving manufacturing quality.


See study of Taylor by R. Kanigel (1997). Also see G. Friedmann, Industrial Society: The Emergence of the Human Problems of Automation (1955); S. Haber, Efficiency and Uplift: Scientific Management in the Progressive Era, 1890–1920 (1964); J. Barbash, The Elements of Industrial Relations (1984); D. DelMar, Operations and Industrial Management (1985).

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright© 2015, The Columbia University Press.

Management: Selected full-text books and articles

Controversies in Management: Issues, Debates, Answers By Alan Berkeley Thomas Routledge, 2003 (2nd edition)
The Philosophy of Management By Oliver Sheldon; Kenneth Thompson Routledge, 2003
The John Adair Handbook of Management and Leadership By John Eric Adair; Neil Thomas Thorogood, 2004
The AMA Guide to Management Development By Daniel R. Tobin; Margaret S. Pettingell AMACOM, 2008
Great Minds in Management: The Process of Theory Development By Ken G. Smith; Michael A. Hitt Oxford University Press, 2005
Management Skills for New Managers By Carol W. Ellis American Management Association, 2005
Gurus on Managing People By Sultan Kermally Thorogood, 2004
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