Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Line, Functional and Line-Staff Organizations- Efficiency Implications - Going Industrial Engineering

There are two great principles in organization commonly
known as line and staff, or, to use the terms preferred by
some industrial engineers, " military " 1 and " functional."

1 The use of the term " military " in this sense is misleading. Military
organization has long comprehended both line and staff. Indeed, as the

Line organization is essentially simple, mathematical
subdivision. An army under a major-general is divided into
brigades under brigadier-generals; each brigade is divided
into regiments, under their colonels, and each regiment into
battalions under lieutenant-colonels or majors; each bat-
talion is divided into companies under captains; each com-
pany is again subdivided under its lieutenants, and so on
down to the corporal with his squad. Promotion is step
by step upward; the private may hope to be made a corporal,
a sergeant, a lieutenant, a captain, a major, a colonel, a
general. The lines of authority and responsibility run con-
tinuously through the whole body from top to bottom, as
the veins of the leaf gather to the stalk, and many leaf-
stalks to the twig, and many twigs to the branch, and many
branches to the trunk; and veins and stalk and twig and
branch and trunk have practically similar duties to perform
in the life and growth of the tree.

Staff organization is a division according to functions
division by which one military department does all the
engineering work for the whole army, another supplies all
clothing, or rations, etc. It is the division by which the
roots absorb moisture and salts from the earth, the leaf
cells make chlorophyll, the sap carries the products of these
laboratories to the cell-building processes of the tree. Staff
functions are co-ordinate and co-operative, but they do not
stand to one another in any order of ascending and descend-
ing scale. The captain, simply as captain, ranks and com-
mands the lieutenant; that is a line relation. But the en-
gineer, as engineer, does not command the quarter-master;
the quarter-master does not rank and command the surgeon;
the leaf does not rank the root; that is a staff relation.
On the other hand, the captain is primarily responsible only

oldest of the " noble professions," the military long since discovered and
applied many of the principles lately reannounced by investigators of
" scientific management."

for his own company; each branch of the tree supports only
its own twigs and each twig its own leaves. That, again,
is line organization. The scope of the individual is limited
in area, but unlimited in responsibility within that area.
But the engineer builds a bridge for the entire army
general, colonels, captains, and privates; each root and leaf
contributes its share to the life of the entire tree. That is
staff organization. The responsibility of the individual is
unlimited in area, but limited to one function throughout
that area.

The functions of staff and line are, therefore, not an-
tagonistic; they are not alternative and rival systems of
organization, between which we may choose and say we
will adopt this or that and refuse the other. Line organi-
zation is. essential to discipline and essential to the con-
tinuous existence of the whole body. If the general re-
tires there must be a colonel to succeed him; if the captain
is killed in action, the lieutenant must take command of the
company, or the men are scattered and lost. Staff organi-
zation is essential to efficiency, each branch of it in its own
particular function. If the commissary fails and there is
no food for the troops, the engineer can not make up for the
deficiency by vigorously building bridges. Each staff must
have a line organization within itself for discipline and
continuity; but every complete organization must embody
the principles of both line and staff if we are to secure the
best results, the staff supplying expert functional guidance,
applied through the line's direct control.

In manufacturing and industrial operations generally there
is no lack of development of line organization, but there
is too often a very meagre appreciation of the valuable re-
sults attainable by far-reaching applications of the staff

This is generally characteristic of modern in-
dustrial concerns, and it is here that we are likely to dis-
cover weakness when the attainment of high efficiency is


Under line organization, the foreman is supposed
to decide every question for the men under his particular
control employment or discharge, wages, jobs, diffi-
culties with materials, difficulties with tools, difficulties with
processes, difficulties with other employees. If the ques-
tion is too big for the foreman he goes to the superintendent,
and if it is too much for the superintendent he puts it to the
general manager, and it may finally go to the board of
directors. The assumption under-lying is akin to the sup-
position that the corporal must be a better shot than the
private, and the sergeant than the corporal, and the lieuten-
ant than the sergeant, and so on up to the general in com-

It is one of the very strong features of what has
lately been called " scientific management," that in its study
of operations, its preparation of instructions, and its formu-
lation of schedules, it introduces staff co-operation to a yet
larger extent through the work of expert instructors. We
need a much fuller recognition of this principle, not as the
occasional or unusual accompaniment of the introduction
of a new system, but as an organic part of our regular sys-
tem. We need to incorporate the staff idea into our settled
industrial policy, so that expert direction as to relations
with employees, as to equipment and its maintenance, as to
materials, as to methods and conditions, as to performance,
shall operate throughout our works not in series but in
parallel, and shall be available at every point, to every man,
in every job, at every time.

The average foreman is not could not be able for
all this. He is rarely strong in even one of the three parts
into which Mr. Gantt divides the labor problem finding
out what is the proper day's task for a man suited to the
work, finding out what is the compensation needed to in-
duce the man to do that work, and planning so that the man
can do the work continuously and efficiently.

These are
the things that control the result of all our industrial ven-

tures. After we have laid our plans and bought and in-
stalled our machines and assembled our forces and organized
our whole complicated establishment, with its investment
of money and hopes and expectations, the result depends
very largely on the efficiency of the individual workman.
The cultivation of high efficiency is a matter of vast im-
portance not merely to the invested capital, but to the eco-
nomic and social future of the country.

It has been left
in the past very largely to the foreman, and because he did
not know and could not know the conditions that produce
inefficiency, and the means of cultivating efficiency, the out-
put of the average worker (in the estimate of very careful
students of the question) is not one-third of what it should
be and can be without any increased tax on the body or
brain of the operative. Here is an opportunity for the
conservation of human resources which comes nearer
home even than the conservation of coal or of water

The defect of the average, usual, old-line organization
is that, in the desperate speed of industrial expansion, it has
tried to meet the onslaught of conditions, the mere quanti-
tative problem of expansion, by throwing itself into the only
form with which humanity (as the heritage of centuries of
fighting) is intimately familiar the military form. The
ordinary philosophy of management is (to borrow a defini-
tion from Harrington Emerson) " autocratic authority at the
top delegated authority and imposed responsibility all
down the line, and anarchy everywhere." Just as in em-
ergencies each man below turns to the man above, so in
ordinary routine the order is reversed. The president " puts
it up " to the general manager, the general manager "puts
it up " to the superintendent, the superintendent " puts it
up " to the foreman, the foreman " puts it up " to the work-
man. The work is finally done by, and the efficiency of
actual execution is usually dependent upon, the man of lowest

capacity, of least knowledge, of least possible breadth of
vision, of least power to control conditions that is, the
actual workman. His only source of all help and instruc-
tion is usually but one step higher in knowledge or in power,
and that is a job boss or foreman.

The entire ideal of industrial-engineering organization,
of " scientific management," as it has lately been called, is
diametrically different. It is the study of the plans for
executing the work and of the ultimate operations of the
work itself by the highest expert skill obtainable ; the defini-
tion of the best means for. doing the work by the most
competent specialist obtainable; the reduction of these re-
sults to standard definitions and standard instructions; the
provision of the best apparatus for doing the work, and its
maintenance in the best condition, again by specialized
skill; the careful training of the workmen by competent
instructors to do the job in the best way with these best
appliances, and in the minimum of time; lastly, the provision
of some incentive sufficient to secure the workman's co-
operation, to make him willing to do the work in the way
and in the time that have been studied out. This incentive
may be a day wage, a piece rate, a differential piece rate,
a bonus, a premium, or a purely sentimental reward " an
imaginary value," as Dr. Junge calls it. These wage
methods are not fundamental institutions in themselves, as
they are sometimes mistakenly supposed to be. They are,
or should be, only the last step in a far broader philosophy
of production. Scientific management, then, involves these
three great steps : First, analysis or the accurate estima-
tion of productive elements and preventable wastes; second,
standardization of attainable maxima of performance, and
establishment of conditions by which the men may practi-
cally reach these maxima ; third, and last, devising an incen-
tive by which the interest of the employee is visibly and
convincingly advanced, parallel with the interest of the em-

ployer, as the workman approaches and reaches or even sur-
passes the standards set.

To sum up in three words: The elements of scientific
management are analysis, standardization, incentive.

The difference between it and ordinary management is
that it provides for these things, while ordinary manage-
ment provides only for the transmission of orders and
maintenance of discipline, with little or no instruction or
assistance to the workers.

To put it in still another way: by co-ordinating the two
elementary ideals of management line, for permanence,
authority, discipline; staff, for development of high func-
tional efficiency "scientific management" 1 restores, both
to the job and the man, the identity the individualism
which under ordinary management is lost by a policy of
wholesale dealings and mass relations.

At the present time two leading schools of scientific
management seem to be forming, characteristically asso-
ciated with the names of F. W. Taylor and Harrington
Emerson. It is hardly fair to the subject or to the reader
to attempt to point out in a brief paragraph their distinctive
doctrines, for each requires and has been given by its chief
sponsor an exposition reaching the dimensions of a fair
sized book. 2 As an introduction or an incentive to further
study, however, the following summary is offered:

The Taylor system displaces ordinary management by
the introduction of a highly specific, distinctly defined

1 The term " scientific management " is used with some reluctance be-
cause of its general current employment in a restricted and specialized
sense. Scientific management means only the application of scientific
principles and methods to the work of management. The sciences in-
volved may be, and are, several. Scientific management can not be re-
duced to a formalized and formulated system, although a systematic
scheme of management may be based on scientific principles.

2 See "Shop Management," by F. W. Taylor; Trans. Am. Soc. M. E.
June, 1903. No. 1003. See also " Efficiency as a Basis for Operation and
Wages," Harrington Emerson ; The Engineering Magazine.

" functional force." The performance of work is first di-
vided into two phases planning and execution. Each of
these phases is separated into four major functions. The
four functional representatives in the planning department
are " the order of work clerk," " the instruction card man,"
" the time and cost clerk," and " the shop disciplinarian."
The four functional representatives in the active work of
the shop are " the gang boss," " the speed boss," " the in-
spector," and " the repair boss." There may be one or
many representatives of each function, depending upon the
frequency with which their function necessarily brings them
in contact with the men; but within any one function, the
workman looks to the particular boss of that function for
his orders and assistance. The workman takes orders from
eight different bosses instead of from one only as under the
ordinary system of management. The details of the sys-
tem are also highly specific, as, for example, that all work,
tools, and equipment parts are symbolized, the performance
of every operation is charted, all instructions are written,
etc. The salient feature, however, is that the old line
organization is discarded, and eight functional lines are
put in its place.

Emerson leaves the old line intact, but supplements it
with an expert staff, who bring to bear highly specialized
knowledge and skill upon the various elements of operation
that are susceptible to improvement. These might be, for
example, such matters as the economical burning of fuel, the
custody and issue of materials, the cutting of metals, the
care of machinery and equipment; these are random illustra-
tions only. The staff organization would be specialists in
the subjects of largest influence upon economy of operation,
but their knowledge would be applied, not by direct orders
to the workmen, but by guidance, instruction, suggestion,
counsel, to the regular line officials. Emerson's faith is
not in methods, but in principles of efficiency and their pur-
suit by a line-directed and staff-guided organization, adapted
to the circumstances and conditions of any given operation.
These principles of efficiency are: Ideals; Common-Sense
and Judgment; Competent Counsel; Discipline; the Fair
Deal; Reliable, Immediate and Accurate Records; Plan-
ning and Dispatching; Standards and Schedules; Standard-
ized Conditions; Standardized Operations; Written Stand-
ard-Practice Instructions; and Efficiency Reward. 1

In the acceptance of fundamental ideas and foundational
data there is no important difference between the two
schools. In methods of practice there is a very wide dif-
ference, the latter being much the more elastic. One of the
first precepts of the Taylor school is that no half-measures
are possible. The system must be adopted in its entirety or
let entirely alone. From Emerson's doctrine of efficiency,
on the other hand, follows the deduction that betterment
may proceed by almost infinite gradations, depending on the
willingness and thoroughness with which the principles of
efficiency are accepted and applied.

In the early sections of this chapter organization and
system were spoken of as being effective in controlling large
operations that are beyond the grasp of the individual.
System is the method by which organization works to se-
cure desired results and to maintain control of every item
of work in hand at all times.

"The Twelve Principles of Efficiency;" The Engineering Magazine.
June, 1910, et seq. 

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