The below post was an assignment for the Principles of Management class at Umass-Amherst. The question posed was whether Frederick Taylor’s Principles of Scientific Management would be beneficial for Rob Honeycutt, the owner of Timbuk2 Designs. Part of this assignment was also to post a response to my classmate’s responses; I have not included this portion of the assignment but may publish it in a separate post. For the curious, the case background for this question can be found on page 47 of Management by Stephen Robbins and Mary Coulter. These discussion posts were part of the great learning experience of this class, in fact, I found the discussions in this online course to be more substantial and interactive than most of my on-campus courses!
Timbuk2 has already used principles of scientific management to effect a positive change in the efficiency and effectiveness of their production line. In particular, Frank and Lillian Gilbreth would be proud of Timbuk2’s decision to eliminate the middle-man, and the wasted hand and body motions of handing off products to a carrier who brings the products to the next area of the assembly line. Having each worker move down the sewing line seems like it would also help keep workers alert by having them move around instead of sitting or standing at one station all day. I’m not quite sure what scientific principles are in play here (maybe geometry-the shortest distance between two points being a straight line) but the use of the Toyota Sewing System definitely helps Timbuk2 move towards the "’one best way’ for a job to be done" (Robbins & Coulter, 28) and the idea of the Toyota Sewing System is the tool that helps the workers progress to that "one best way".
One way that organizational behavior would help Rob is to make sure all the sewing line workers are in-sync with each other. In my mind, it seems the sewing line is set up so there’s a worker at each station and as they finish at that station they move to the next one. If the workers are not motivated and observant of each other, bottlenecks would develop at certain stations or with certain individuals thus throwing off the production for the whole group. Timbuk2 also pays its’ employees well and encourages them to learn new skills. The good pay and ability for workers to grow keeps all the workers happy; the well-being of workers is a crucial aspect of organizational behavior as Mayo notes "behavior and attitudes are closely related" (34). Behavior here being their production work and attitudes encompass the happiness and personal and organizational outlook of the employees.
Another crucial aspect of organizational behavior evident at Timbuk2 is a willingness to listen to employee suggestions and ideas. As Timbuk2 encourages employees to grow, it would be rather silly for them to not listen to employee’s ideas. Listening to employee ideas shows that Timbuk2 considers all of their employees as part of the Timbuk2 team and considers them to be equals. This portion of Timbuk2’s strategy also contributes to employees’ satisfaction with their job which encourages them to stay with Timbuk2 and increases their output. It also encourages innovation throughout the company which is a goal of entrepreneurship and knowledge management.
- Customers provide Timbuk2 with the specifications for each bag produced. This improves both efficiency and effectiveness as it eliminates the need for Timbuk2 to design the bags and it helps customers get exactly the bag they want.
- Purchasing materials on a weekly basis allows Timbuk2 to keep its inventory and waste costs down by ensuring only what is needed is bought and used.
- Employee ideas and suggestions are additional inputs that contribute to streamlining the production process.
- Orders come into Timbuk2 from a variety of sources, including Internet orders, which improve efficiency by allowing customer orders to be quickly turned into design specifications for the sewing line and thus improves turn-around time.
- Sewing line workers receive the materials and design specifications and use both to, step by step, create a fully customized bag for each customer. At the end of the day each bag produced is shipped out, reducing storage costs and improving customer satisfaction by keeping wait times to a minimum.
- Workers on the sewing line act as quality control and use their first-hand experience to improve the processing of orders into final products. In this way the people on the sewing line can be considered managers (managing the quality of the bags and improving production).
- At the final station on the sewing line the customer’s order is finalized into his/her bag and is likely handed off to a shipping department, which gathers the finished bags and ships them out to the customers.
- We’re told that due to the improvements in efficiency, effectiveness, and timeliness caused by the creation of a web-site Timbuk2’s sales have increased, even during economic downturns.
I’ve touched upon many of the characteristics of Timbuk2 that are becoming increasingly important in my much of my response above, a focus on customers and employee satisfaction, knowledge and quality management, and constant improvements in efficiency and effectiveness are and will continue to be aspects of successful organizations. In addition, Timbuk2 exhibits work-force diversity, which is an increasing part of all organizations, they use technology to improve all portions of their company, and Timbuk2 definitely represents ethical behavior by paying immigrants a high salary with full medical benefits.
A quick note on Timbuk2’s strategy; I believe that they are successful because they emulate a lot of the characteristics of their customers. It seems to me that bike messengers would be environmentally and socially conscious (caused by peddling through vehicle exhaust all day), sociable and unique (caused by meeting a wide-range of people on a consistent daily basis) and appreciative of companies who compensate workers equitably (being a bike messenger is a tough job and I know they’re not paid very highly as I applied for and almost worked as a bike messenger a few years ago). So paying immigrants a high rate, treating all of their employees equitably, and listening to their customers seems to be a direct effect of the target audience of Timbuk2.