Brief History of the Production and operations Management function

At the turn of the 20th century, the economic structure in most of the developed countries of today was fast changing from a feudalistic economy to that of an industrial or capitalistic economy. The nature of the industrial workers was changing and methods of exercising control over the workers, to get the desired output, had also to be changed. This changed economic climate produced the new techniques and concepts.

Individual Efficiency:

Fredric W Taylor studied the simple output to time relationship for manual labor such as brick-laying. This formed the precursor of the present day ‘time study’. Around the same time, Frank Gilberth and his leaned wife Lillian Gilberth examined the motions of the limbs of the workers (such as the hands, legs, eyes etc) in performing the jobs and tried to standardize these motions into certain categories and utilize the classification to arrive at standards for time required to perform a given job. This was the precursor to the present day ‘motion study’. Although to this day Gilberth’s classification of movements is used extensively, there have been various modifications and newer classifications.

Collective Efficiency:

So far focus was on controlling the work output of the manual laborer or the machine operator. The primary objective of production management was that of efficiency – efficiency of the individual operator. The aspects of collective efficiency came into being later, expressed through the efforts of scientists such as Gantt who shifted the attention to scheduling of the operations. Even now, we use the Gantt charts in operations scheduling. The considerations of efficiency in the use of materials followed later. It was almost 1930, before a basic inventory model was presented by F W Harris.

After the progress of applications of scientific principles to the manufacturing aspects, thought progressed to control over the quality of the finished material itself. Till then, the focus was on the quantitative aspects; later on it shifted to the quality aspects. Quality which is an important customer service objective came to be recognized for scientific analysis. The analysis of productive system, therefore, now also included the effectiveness criterion in addition to efficiency. In 1931, Walter Shewart came up with theory regarding Control Charts for quality or what is known as ‘process control’. These charts suggested a simple graphical methodology to monitor the quality characteristics of the output and how to control it. In 1935, H F Dodge and HG Romig came up with application of statistical principles to the acceptance and/or rejection of the consignments supplied by the suppliers to exercise control over the quality. This field, which has developed over the years is now known as; acceptance sampling.

Effectiveness as a Function of Internal Climate:

In addition to effectiveness for the customer, the concept of effectiveness as a function of internal climate dawned on management scientists through the Hawthorne experiments which actually had the purpose of increasing the efficiency of the individual worker. These experiments showed that worker efficiency went up when the intensity of illumination was gradually increased, and even when it was gradually decreased, the worker efficiency still kept rising. This puzzle could be explained only through the angle of human psychology; the very fact that somebody cared, mattered much to the workers who gave increased output. Till now, it was Taylor’s theory of elementalisation of task and thus the specialization in one task which found much use in Henry Ford’s Assembly Line.

Advent of Operations Research Techniques:

The birth of Operations Research (OR) during the World War II period saw a big boost in the application of scientific techniques in management. During this war, the Allied Force took the help of statisticians, scientists, engineers etc to analyze and answers questions such as: What is the optimum way of mining the harbors of the areas occupied by the Japanese? What should be the optimum size of the fleet of the supply ships, taking into account the costs of loss due to enemy attack and the costs of employing the defense fleet? Such studies about the military operations was termed as OR. After World War II, this field was further investigated and developed by academic institutions. Various techniques such as linear programming game theory, queuing theory and the like developed by people such as George Dantzig A Charnes and W.W Cooper have become indispensable tools for management decision making today.

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