Account

Machine-Centered vs. Worker-Centered Design –

Date: October 8, 1997
Speaker: 
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Feature Presentation: Two videos demonstrate the strong contrasts between the Ameriican machine/data/efficiency centered approach to work design and the worker-centered, cooperative design methods used in Scandanavia. A bibliography will be provided.

Clockwork

One hundred years ago, American management faced many of the problems it confronts today – poor productivity, rapid technological change, and heightened competition. Clockwork shows how Frederick Taylor and his followers attempted to meet these challenges through “scientific management,” a radical program to organize every aspect of production under a regime of quantitative measures and systematic planning.

Clockwork is the only film on Taylor’s work and its continuing influence on the modern workplace. The film includes original historical footage which Taylor and his contemporaries, the Gilbreths, shot for the pioneering time-motion studies which paved the way for the modern automated assembly line and unskilled factory worker.

Clockwork shows how even the latest computer assisted design and manufacturing systems unwittingly incorporate Taylor’s theories of production management. Today, many organizational theorists argue we must urgently challenge Taylor’s legacy if America is to develop the participative workplace needed for the high valued added production of today’s global economy.

Computers in Context

Computers in Context introduces Americans to a new human-resource based computer paradigm now emerging in Scandinavia. This innovative “tool perspective” reconceives systems design as part of larger organizational strategies to augment, rather than replace, worker skill, creativity, and initiative. The three worksites featured show how computer systems can broaden participation, decentralize problem-solving, encourage on-the-job learning, and preserve jobs. In Oslo, a new multi-function workstation enables banktellers to become “personal account managers” offering a full range of higher value-added, individualized services for an increasingly competitive marketplace. The UTOPIA project aimed to avoid the de-skilling and layoffs common to American turn-key newspaper lay-out systems. It pioneered a collaborative systems development process based on extending, not replacing, the craft and knowledge of graphic workers. AT S.A.S.‘s airplane maintenance facility, a Taylorized “expert system” saw output rise but quality fall. It was replaced by a decision-support system which helps workers diagnose problems and schedule work themselves – a “system for experts” not an “expert system.”

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“A ‘must see’ for line managers and systems designers. If American businesses are to compete they must learn how to apply advanced technology in ways that fully utilize and develop the capabilities of the people who operate it. The three instancesin this video are pioneering examples.”—Richard Walton, Harvard Business School”

This film shows new technology working best when coupled with worker initiative. Its rich case studies highlight the new potential synergy that may emerge if computers are designed with people in mind.” – Larry Hirschhorn, Wharton Scholar.

“Required viewing. demonstrates that the real competitive advantage may lie in designing creative man/machine interfaces which build in performance improvement and organizational development.”—Infosystem

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