A Defense of Taylorism

  • November 27, 2011
  • Scott

Jakob Freund has written an interesting defense of Taylorism, and he makes a few interesting points that I don’t recall seeing in previous discussions about ACM v BPM.

Actually, when I am driving, I am a zombie worker most of the time. Sometimes, of course, there are “unpredictable” events, like a child running over the street, or an alien spaceship landing in the middle of the highway. Then I become a knowledge worker, handling that case with my horribly flexible brain.

No, I don’t mean the point about alien spacecraft, I’m referring to his point that being able to operate on auto-pilot leaves our mind free to focus when we really need to, in value-added situations.

So the bottom line is: Making the world more predictable (yes, it can be done), and then applying axiomatic systems to it, is nothing invented by Taylor and somehow an “accident” of the 20th century, but it is a central component of human evolution. It has always been there, and it will always be there, as long as people are interested in less work and more free time.

This is also an interesting argument.  A bit too much credit has gone to Taylor over the years for putting into words what might already have been in progress.

The central thesis seems to be that reducing “knowledge work” to scalable process work is one of the key imperatives of scaling a business.  It is an interesting take on things, and fits a lot of the process efforts that focus on efficiency as a goal.  And it is a refutation of much of the hype around ACM as being something shiny and new.

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  • I think it was Keith (Swenson) that pointed out that the success of the tools and methodologies for routine work is causing the current interest in ACM – those tools allow people to be freed up to spend more time on knowledge work. Now it is time to for the process community to provide more assistance to knowledge work – hence ACM.

    My stance is that if you can automate a process, you should, because it really isn’t knowledge work. That is exactly what a BPMS is for. But the real win is for a company to use routine process automation (Taylorism) to free up the organization to focus on the real differentiating work (knowledge work). That is where BPMS falls down.

    I agree that ACM isn’t new – only the name is. The desire to use computing technology to manage knowledge work (and collaboration) actually pre-dates BPM, it is just that it was overshadowed (and mostly ignored) by BPMS community. It is time for the pendulum to swing back.

    • you’re right, it was keith who made that point.  I think he overstated the case (there’s still a ton of routine work out there, for one thing), but he did make that case.

      I think “automate” is not the right word though.  The way you’re using it I believe you mean “remove humans from the process”. That is such a narrow definition of that term, and of BPM.  In my view it is barely a process at all if it can be “automated” as in, computers alone do all the work – at that point it is more accurate to describe it as a program. 

      For a process, I think a starting assumption is that it can not be 100% automated.  So the goal is to provide the best possible framework for teeing up the work, and integrating information sources and decisions. 

      I guess my issue is that I think the people who focused only on automation essentially “lost” the BPM debate. The BPEL folks lost to BPMN, the folks who basically had good systems integration software ended up acquiring the more human-oriented BPMS’s out there, in order to stay relevant and grow their business.  So to me, coming from one of those more people-oriented vendor backgrounds, it is a bit ironic that it is at that moment of victory, in a sense, that part of our BPM community decides to rename that part of the work that is knowledge work as “ACM” 🙂