Article i 'Tidsskrift for arbejdsliv' no. 4 2001, page 69-90.
F.W. Taylor’s ideas about Scientific Management had in fact only limited impact on management practice in the period before 1920. World wide the system was only successfully implemented at a few places – maybe only in five or six organisations. In Denmark an early introduction of the system took place at the NKT cable factory in Middelfart. There – over a ten-year period from 1905 to 1915 – the new scientific management principles were gradually adopted. However, a change of top management led to parts of the system – such as the time-study based wage principle – being abandoned. Only half a century later the ‘new’ ideas were reinstalled in the organisation.
Only little research has been done on work organisations from a historic perspective. Also, while many general studies of management philosophy have been carried out, little is known about management practice seen from the shop floor reality. Based on the existing knowledge it seems that the failing break-through of Scientific Management in its first period were not – as often suggested – caused by resistance from the labour unions, who at that time hardly knew about the ideas. To the contrary, the resistance came from conservative oriented top managers who often put the brakes on the introduction of new management thoughts and systems.
As such it will be wrong to say, that new management methods automatically will emerge as a consequence of structural, technological or competitional necessity. At the NKT plant at least, the introduction and implementation of Scientific Management were carried through by the personal enthusiasm of a factory manager (Walter Engel) who happened to be inticed and exited by the new tayloristic thoughts. It was this excitement in itself that became influential, and not the specifics of the new methods, as most parts of these were known and developed by others already in the preceding century. The most important source of influence was the charisma of Taylor who became the central figure for an almost political or religious movement.