Henry Laurence Gantt

Henry Laurence Gantt: The Gantt chart thinker
Image used with permission from MIT Press.

Henry Laurence Gantt's (1861-1919) most popular legacy to management was the Gantt Chart. Accepted as a commonplace project management tool today, it was an innovation of worldwide importance in the 1920s. But the Chart was not Gantt's only legacy; he was also a forerunner of the Human Relations School of management and an early spokesman for the social responsibility of business.


Life and career

Henry Gantt was born into a family of prosperous farmers in Maryland in 1861. His early years, however, were marked by some deprivation as the Civil War brought about changes to the family fortunes. He graduated from Johns Hopkins College in 1880 and was a teacher before becoming a draughtsman in 1884 and qualifying as a mechanical engineer. From 1887 to 1893 he worked at the Midvale Steel Company in Philadelphia, where he became Assistant to the Chief Engineer (Fredrick W. Taylor) and then Superintendent of the Casting Department.

Gantt and Taylor worked well in their early years together and Gantt followed Taylor to Simonds Rolling Company and on to Bethlehem Steel. From 1900 Gantt became well known in his own right as a successful consultant as he developed interests in broader, even conflicting, aspects of management. In 1917 he accepted a government commission to contribute to the war effort in the Frankford Arsenal and for the Emergency Fleet Corporation.

Gantt's contribution

Gantt is often seen as a disciple of Taylor and a promoter of the scientific school of management. In his early career, with the influence of Taylor - and Gantt’s aptitude for problem solving - resulted in attempts to address the technical problems of scientific management. Like Taylor, Gantt believed that it was only the application of scientific analysis to every aspect of work which could produce industrial efficiency, and that improvements in management came from eliminating chance and accidents. Gantt made four individual and notable contributions:

1. The task and bonus system

Gantt’s task and bonus wage system was introduced in 1901 as a variation on Taylor’s differential piece-rate system. With Gantt’s system, the employee received a bonus in addition to his regular day rate if he accomplished the task for the day; he would still receive the day rate even if the task was not completed, whereas Taylor’s piece-rate system penalised employees for substandard performance. As a result of introducing Gantt’s system, which enabled workers to earn a living while learning to increase their efficiency, production often more than doubled. This convinced Gantt that concern for the worker and employee morale was one of the most important factors in management, and led him eventually to part company from Taylor on the fundamentals of scientific management.

2. The perspective of the worker

Gantt realised that his system offered little incentive to do more than just meet the standard. He subsequently modified it to pay according to time allowed, plus a percentage of that time if the task were completed in that time or less. Hence a worker could receive three hours pay for doing a two-hour job in two hours or less. But here Gantt brought in an innovation, by paying the foreman a bonus if all the workers met the required standard. This constituted one of the earliest recorded attempts to reward the foreman for teaching workers to improve the way they worked. In Work, wages and profits Gantt wrote:

'Whatever we do must be in accord with human nature. We cannot drive people; we must direct their development....the general policy of the past has been to drive; but the era of force must give way to that of knowledge, and the policy of the future will be to teach and lead, to the advantage of all concerned'.

Gantt was interested in an aspect of industrial education which he called the 'habits of industry' - habits of industriousness and cooperation, doing work to the best of one's ability, and pride in the quality as well as the quantity of work.

From his experience as a teacher, Gantt hoped that his bonus system would help to convert the foreman from an overseer and driver of workers to a helper and teacher of subordinates.

3. The chart

Gantt's Bar Chart started as a humble but effective mechanism for recording the progress of workers towards the task standard. A daily record was kept for each worker - in black, if he met the standard, in red, if he didn't. This expanded into further charts on quantity of work per machines, quantity of work per worker, cost control and other subjects.

It was whilst grappling with the problem of tracking all the various tasks and activities of government departments on the war effort in 1917, that Gantt realised he should be scheduling on the basis of time and not on quantities. His solution was a bar chart which showed how work was scheduled over time through to its completion. This enabled management to see, in graphic form, how well work was progressing, and indicated when and where action would be necessary to keep on time.

Gantt Charts have been applied to all kinds of projects to illustrate how scheduling may be best achieved. To illustrate a Gantt Chart we take the mini-project of redecorating an office with the steps of:

a)         Establishing the terms of reference and standards of quality, cost and time.
b)         Informing all appropriate personnel and customers.
c)         Arranging alternative accommodation.
d)         Preparing the office.
e)         Redecorating.

The Gantt Chart provided a graphic means of planning and controlling work and led to the development of PERT (Program Evaluation and Review Technique) diagrams.

4. The social responsibility of business

After the death of Taylor in 1915, Gantt seemed to distance himself further from the core principles of scientific management and extended his management interests to the function of leadership and the role of the firm itself. As his thinking developed, he believed increasingly that management had obligations to the community at large, and that the profitable organisation had a duty towards the welfare of society.

In Organizing for work, he argued that there was a conflict between profits and service, and that the businessman who says that profits are more important than the service he renders 'has forgotten that his business system had a foundation in service, and as far as the community is concerned has no reason for existence except the service it can render.' These concerns led him to assert that: 'the business system must accept its social responsibility and devote itself primarily to service, or the community will ultimately make the attempt to take it over in order to operate it in its own interest.'

Gantt was hugely influenced by the events in Russia in 1917 and, in fear that big business was sacrificing service to profit, he began to attack the profit system itself, calling for public service corporations to ensure service to the community.

In perspective

Gantt’s contributions to the advancement of management science are of great significance. Gantt was a prolific writer and speaker. He addressed the American Society of Mechanical Engineers on a number of occasions. One of his papers - Training workmen in habits of industry and cooperation (1908) - has been noted by several commentators as giving a unique insight into the human relations dimension of management at a time when scientific management was at its peak.

His approach to the foreman as teacher marks him as an early contributor to human behavioural thought in a line which stretches back to Owen and forward with Mayo to the present day. His approach to the duty of the firm towards society also singles him out as one of the earliest spokesmen on the social responsibility of business. But it is as the inventor of the Gantt Chart that he will be remembered.

It has been suggested that his thinking became somewhat vague shortly before his death, as he began to situate the work of the firm in a broader, national and political context. It seems that there was a struggle in his later years between service and appropriate rewards on the one hand and socialist control policies on the other.

Gantt never profited from his enduring innovation, and his books are illustrated with examples of charts showing 'work in progress' rather than the lateral project bar chart with which we are more familiar today. He did receive the Distinguished Service Medal from the government, but it was a member of Gantt's consulting firm, Wallace Clark, who popularised the idea of the Gantt Chart in a book which was translated into eight languages.

Further reading

Key works by Gantt

Work, wages and profits. New York, Engineering Magazine Co, 1910

Industrial leadership. New Haven, Yale University Press, 1916

Organizing for work. London, Allen & Unwin, 1919

With Rathe, A. Gantt on management: guidelines for today's executive. New York, American Management Association, 1961

Further reading

Clark, W. The Gantt chart: a working tool of management. London, Pitman, 1952

Urwick, L. The golden book of management, London, Newman Neame, 1956

George, C. The history of management thought. 2nd ed. Englewood Cliffs, Prentice Hall, 1972

Wren, D. The evolution of management thought. New York, John Wiley, 1987

Duncan, W.  Great ideas in management. San Francisco, Jossey Bass, 1989

Basu, R. Implementing six sigma and lean: a practical guide to tools and techniques. Oxford, 2009 (See p.34-35 for Gantt chart application and basic steps).

Journal article

Peterson, P. Training and development: the view of Henry L Gantt (1861-1919). SAM Advanced Management Journal, 52 (1) Winter 1987, pp.20-23