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The Management Theory of Frank and Lillian Gilbreth

By Sammi Caramela
Business.com / Last Modified: February 26, 2018
Image credits: docstockmedia/Shutterstock

Frank and Lillian Gilbreth valued efficiency by identifying and replicating one best way to complete a task.

Husband and wife Frank and Lillian Gilbreth believed in regulation and consistency in the workplace. Rather than encouraging a company of many working parts, they valued efficiency above all else. The couple believed that there is one best way to get any job done, and the specific process should, when identified, be replicated through the manufacturing process, eliminating individual steps and producing the most efficient results.

Frank stated, "The greatest misunderstandings occur as to the aims of scientific management. Its fundamental aim is the elimination of waste, the attainment of worthwhile desired results with the least necessary amount of time and effort."

The couple placed high value on efficiency when managing an organization. Their management theory outlined three main points:

1. Reduce the number of motions in a task.

Frank and Lillian coined the term "therbligs," or elemental motions required for tasks in the workplace. They used these 18 units to analyze how tasks were completed – searching for an object with eyes or hands, grasping an object with hands, assembling and disassembling two parts, etc. From there, they'd figure out which motions were necessary, then eliminate any unnecessary motions to increase efficiency.

2. Focus on the incremental study of motions and time.

As engineers, Frank and Lillian closely studied motion and time to calculate the most efficient way to complete a given task. Taking the scientific approach, they measured time and motion to 1/2000 of a second to understand what works best. Their insight was unlike that of most other theorists, as they channeled physical science rather than psychology.  

3. Increase efficiency to increase profit and worker satisfaction.

Your main goal as a leader should be increasing efficiency in each individual employee, and in the organization as a whole. Not only will this method save time, it will also afford you a higher profit and happier workers.

Fun fact: "Cheaper by the Dozen," written by Frank and his daughter Ernestine Gilbreth Carey, is based on Frank, Lillian and their 12 children.

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