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This lesson describes the contributions this husband-and-wife team made to the field of management, including their famous motion study, which provided insight into particular movements that could increase outputs.

Meet the Gilbreths

It was the early 1900s, and Frank, a young contractor in Boston, set his eyes on Lillian, a recent college graduate from California. Clearly, Katy Perry had it right about California girls being undeniably beautiful because Frank’s attempts at wooing Lillian must have worked. After just six months after meeting for the first time, they were married. Being the smart woman she was, Lillian quickly joined Frank in his construction business and began to take on a leadership role within the company.

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Three years later, in 1907, the couple was introduced to Frederick Taylor. Entranced with Taylor’s work with time studies, the Gilbreths rapidly became involved in scientific research. Using what they learned while working with Taylor, the Gilbreths decided to shift their focus to scientific management consulting and severed their working relationship with Taylor in 1914. Lillian continued her education by earning a doctorate in psychology and later used what she learned during this degree program to better understand the practice of management.With this newfound knowledge relating to psychology, the Gilbreths were able to combine the human element of management with the technical observations they had made during their research. The two quickly tied the idea of worker satisfaction to productivity and saw that when worker satisfaction increased, so did the level of productivity and efficiency in those same workers. What resulted was the design of a system that would ease the amount of fatigue a worker experienced by providing them with specific movements to use while completing their jobs.

They also noticed the need to consider the working conditions and overall environment in which the workers performed their jobs. This lead to innovations in office furniture, and many credit them with leading the way to the study of ergonomics.

Motion Study

Although their contributions were many, what the Gilbreths are most known for is their work on motion studies. If you’re familiar with the phrase ‘work smarter, not harder’, then you will know exactly what Frank and Lillian were after.

The interest in standardization and method studies developed while Frank was working as a bricklayer. In fact, it didn’t take long as an apprentice for Frank to notice that no one bricklayer performed his or her job quite the same. He found some workers to be highly productive, while others were extremely slow and ineffective. While we can certainly attribute some of the slowness and inefficiency to pure laziness, Frank focused on identifying the basic movements needed to lay brick effectively and isolated them to eliminate unnecessary movements.

Frank presented his findings to his fellow bricklayers and found that those who used the movements he recommended were able to increase their output from 1,000 to 2,700 bricks per day.Just imagine what that would mean for you as a manager. If you were able to come up with a standard set of movements, practices, methods, or procedures for your workers to follow that would maximize their efforts, how much more could your employees do during their 8-hour shift? How much more could be done on a given week, a month, or a year? And how much more profit could you earn as a result? What the Gilbreths discovered by studying the motions of others was a way to immediately impact the bottom line for the better. There was no fancy equipment to buy, elaborate marketing schemes to draw up, or innovative products needing to be developed.

It required nothing more than spending time observing, analyzing, and scrutinizing effective movements of workers as they went through the motions of their jobs. Again, work smarter, not harder!This was just the beginning for Frank; his desire to improve worker efficiency and productivity only grew as he began to work alongside Taylor and Lillian while they developed the foundational principles of scientific management, as I discussed earlier. The Gilbreths later used a motion-picture camera and split-second clock to capture specific motions that they considered to be the best possible way to perform a given task.

Lesson Summary

Let’s review. Frank and Lillian Gilbreth were a husband-and-wife team whose contributions helped lay the foundational principles of scientific management. As associates of Frederick Taylor in the early 1900s, they were able to explore how time and motion studies could be used to identify the best possible way for a worker to complete a particular task.

The results of such studies allowed for improvements to be made in employee satisfaction, efficiency, and productivity. The Gilbreths are best known for their work on these motion studies, which started with Frank’s initial observations during his apprenticeship as a bricklayer. Frank focused on identifying the basic movements needed to lay brick effectively and isolated them to eliminate unnecessary movements.

Frank presented his findings to his fellow bricklayers and found that those who used the movements he recommended were able to increase their output from 1,000 to 2,700 bricks per day. Taking this knowledge along with the experience he gained while working alongside Taylor, the Gillbreths began a career in scientific management consulting. They continued to refine their methods and later used a motion-picture camera and split-second clock to capture specific motions that they considered to be the best possible way to perform a given task.

Lesson Objectives

Once you finish this lesson you’ll be able to:

  • Describe the importance of Frank and Lillian Gilbreth to the development of scientific management
  • Understand how the couple’s motion studies helped shape scientific management
  • Comprehend how their experiments spawned improvements in employee satisfaction, efficiency and producitivity
  • Recall their bricklaying experiments and how it led to advances in work efficiency

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