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Henry L. Gantt
A Retrospective view of his work.

"Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results."
Albert Einstein.

Keywords: Schedule, control, Gantt Charts.

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Henry L. Gantt - A Retrospective view of his work [P158]

The importance of Henry Gantt to the development of project management and modern business management cannot be understated. However, his contribution was not associated with developing what the modern world calls 'Gantt Charts' - this type of chart pre-dates Gantt by more than a century; he is famous for the wrong reasons!  

Gantt did not invent simple bar charts that show the time work is planned to occur – these were invented more than 100 years before Gantt’s work (see: A Brief History of Scheduling and the '1910 Schürch barchart') and were in regular but often ineffective use in the manufacturing plant's Gantt helped: “Many shops have a very nice schedule system; they plan their work beautifully—at least, it looks very pretty on paper; but they have no means of finding out whether those schedules are lived up to or not.”

Gantt’s focus was on increased production, through the use of effective measurement and planning. The charts he used (there were many different types) were only a means to an end: “The man who undertakes to introduce scientific management and pins his faith to rules, and the use of forms and blanks, without thoroughly comprehending the principles upon which it is based, will fail. Forms and blanks are simply the means to an end. If the end is not kept clearly in mind, the use of these forms and blanks is apt to be detrimental rather than beneficial.” The innovations introduced by Gantt in the early 1900s, that are still very much the focus of modern project management included team motivation, change management and the effective use of control systems.  Whilst the focus of his work was in manufacturing, with the advantage of repetition and standardisation, many of his ideas and processes are still valuable in today’s projects.

Henry Gantt’s standout contribution was his innovative approach to workforce management, today we would call this 'team' management; overlaid with a strong sense of industrial democracy. It was focused on the efficient utilization of labour and a fair division of the rewards from any improvement in productivity between the workers and the owners of the factories.

The starting point of Gantt’s work was the ideas of scientific management introduced by Frederic Taylor. The best way to understand a complex task is to break it down into its component parts, scientifically study and optimise each part and then synthesise the optimum way to complete the work from the optimised parts. What made Gantt’s work uniquely valuable was the way this information was used to motivate workers. His method involved scientific investigation and careful standardization of the work into tasks. Once a task had been set, individual instruction was provided to each worker, and once they had learnt to perform the task in the set time and to the required quality, a bonus was paid in addition to their daily wage. Gantt recognised incentives are a far more powerful motivator then penalties. He described his approach as a system of education for the workforce, with a bonus for those who learned! It proved highly effective generated sustained productivity improvements well in excess of 100%.

His system also interconnected the reward paid to the supervisor with the rewards paid to the workers. The foreman received a bonus for each worker in his team that received a bonus, but the foreman’s bonus was doubled if all of the workers in his team achieved a bonus.  This encouraged the foreman to work with and support the least effective members of ‘the team’ to bring everyone up to standard. Importantly whenever a bonus was not earned, the cause was investigated and the cause of the failure removed or remedied, Gantt wanted everyone to make their bonus every day! When this was achieved, the plant as a whole was working to its optimum productivity and generating the maximum profits; a win-win outcome.

When introducing his system to a new factory, Gantt recognized that a “system of management requires all of its parts to work in harmony if it is to be effective” and that “in every workroom there is a fashion, a habit of work, and every new worker follows that fashion, for it isn't respectable not to.”   Consequently, “the changing of a system of management is a very serious matter and cannot be done by a superintendent in his spare time.” 

Gantt recognised the change needed to introduce a new system requires a high degree of skill, takes time and needs planning! The challenge is getting senior management to actively support the change that brings better systems into use to the benefit of the organisation. This paper looks at the real contributions Henry Gantt made and consider them in the modern context. Unfortunately many of the problems and issues Gantt identified are still present in many organisations and still prevent the achievement of optimal production outcomes!

A research article published in April 2013: Where did the Misuse of the names Gantt and PERT Originate?, suggests the resurgence in the use of these names can be attributed to the decision of Microsoft to misname the views in its scheduling tool Microsoft Project - the findings are preliminary but persuasive. Read the PM World Journal, April paper.

Author: Patrick Weaver

PM World Journal

Download the full Henry L. Gantt - A Retrospective view of his work paper

Download the short AIPM Powerpoint presentation

Key references:
-  Henry Gantt's books:
   - Work Wages & Profits
   - Organizing for Work
   - The Gantt chart a working tool of management (Wallace Clark)
-  The 1910 Schürch barchart

   -  Published article (German language see p233 & 234 for diagrams)
   -  Translated comments on the schedule

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