Lyndall Urwick

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Lyndall Fownes Urwick (3 March 1891 – 5 December 1983) was a British management consultant and business thinker. He is recognised for integrating the ideas of earlier theorists like Henri Fayol into a comprehensive theory of management administration. He wrote an influential book called The Elements of Business Administration, published in 1943.





"Organization as a Technical Problem," 1937


Lyndall Urwick (1937), "Organization as a Technical Problem," in L. Gulick and L. Urwick, eds., Papers on the Science of Administration. Institute of Public Administration, New York, 1937. p. 47-88

  • In 1931, under the title "Onward Industry," Messrs. James D. Mooney and Alan C. Reiley published a full-length book examining the comparative principles of organization as displayed historically in governmental, ecclesiastical, military and business structures... Their book constitutes the first serious attempt to deal with the subject comparatively and synoptically.
    • p. 49; The general outline of their concepts have been summarized in one figure or table.

"The function of management", 1937


Lyndall Urwick (1937), "The function of management," in L. Gulick and L. Urwick, eds., Papers on the Science of Administration. Institute of Public Administration, New York, 1937. p. 115-130

  • This paper has a threefold purpose:
I. It calls attention to the work of a famous French industrialist which is perhaps too little known in this country. More than any other European who has lived in this century, Henri Fayol is responsible for directing minds to the need for studying administration scientifically. He has laid down broad lines which no subsequent student should neglect.
II. But his logical analysis of the operations involved in business and particularly of the function of Administration stops quite suddenly when he begins to talk of principles: he becomes empirical in his presentation and attitude. This sudden check in his thought will be shown to be due to the "practical man fallacy," inevitable in the light of his background and experience. It is an intensely interesting example of the limitations imposed on scientific study by immediate administrative responsibility.
III. Despite his own practical attitude and refusal to consider a logical arrangement of the principles, it will be found, on closer examination, that his general treatment of administration can be presented as a complete, logical scheme. Within that scheme are two subsidiary systems. The one deals with the structural and the other with the human aspects of administration. The former has been arranged to correspond with the scheme of the principles of organization developed by Mr. Mooney, President of the General Motors Export Company. The latter has resulted from arranging the balance of Fayol's principles and administrative duties on the same general lines.
  • p. 115

"Science, Value and Public Administration", 1937


Lyndall Urwick (1937), "Science, Value and Public Administration," in L. Gulick and L. Urwick, eds., Papers on the Science of Administration. Institute of Public Administration, New York, 1937. p. 189-130

  • Administration has to do with getting things done; with the accomplishment of defined objectives. The science of administration is thus the system of knowledge whereby men may understand relationships, predict results, and influence outcomes in any situation where men are organized at work together for a common purpose. Public administration is that part of the science of administration which has to do with government, and thus concerns itself primarily with the executive branch, where the work of government is done, though there are obviously administrative problems also in connection with the legislative and the judicial branches. Public administration is thus a division of political science, and one of the social sciences.
    • p. 189
  • At the present time administration is more an art than a science; in fact there are those who assert dogmatically that it can never be anything else. They draw no hope from the fact that metallurgy, for example, was completely an art several centuries before it became primarily a science and commenced its great forward strides after generations of intermittent advance and decline.
    • p. 189



Dynamic administration, 1942


Mary Parker Follett with Henry C. Metcalf, and Lyndall Urwick (eds.). Dynamic administration: the collected papers of Mary Parker Follett. Harper & Brother Publishing, 1942; Routledge, 2004.

See Henry C. Metcalf#Dynamic administration, 1942

The Elements of Business Administration, 1943


Lyndall Urwick. The Elements of Business Administration, 1943

  • To hold a group or individual accountable for activities of any kind without assigning to him or them the necessary authority to discharge that responsibility is manifestly both unsatisfactory and inequitable. It is of great Importance to smooth working that at all levels authority and responsibility should be coterminous and coequal.
    • p. 46
  • No superior can supervise directly the work of more than five or, at the most, six subordinates whose work interlocks. The reason for this is simple. What is supervised is not only the individuals, but the permutations and combinations of the relationships between them. And while the former increase in arithmetical progression with the addition of each fresh subordinate, the latter increase by geometrical progression. If a superior adds a sixth to five immediate subordinates he Increases his opportunity of delegation by 20 per cent, but he adds over 100 per cent to the number of relationships he has to take into account. Because ultimately it is based on the limitations imposed by the human span of attention, this principle is called The Span of Control.
    • p. 53
  • [Functionalism is a] dividing up of activities as to kinds.
    • p. 56
  • The fact that these principles, collected from the writings of half a dozen different people, many of whom made no attempt to correlate their work with others, can be presented in a coherent and logical pattern is in itself strong evidence that there is a common element in all experience of the conduct of social groups, that a true science of administration is ultimately possible.
    • p. 118

The Making Of Scientific Management, 1945


Lyndall Urwick and E.F.L. Brech (1949) The Making Of Scientific Management, Vol I, 1945; Vol II, 1949.

  • Scientific Management is not a new "system," something "invented" by a man called F. W. Taylor, a passing novelty." It is something much deeper, an attitude towards the control of human systems of co-operation of all kinds rendered essential by the immense accretion of power over material things ushered in by the industrial revolution...
What Taylor did was not to invent something quite new, but to synthesise and present as a reasonably coherent whole ideas which had been germinating and gathering force in Great Britain and the United States throughout the nineteenth century. He gave to a disconnected series of initiatives and experiments a philosophy and a title; complete unity was not within his scope... It was left to others to extend his philosophy to other functions and especially to Henri Fayol, a Frenchman, to develop logical principles for the administration of a large-scale undertaking as a whole.
It detracts nothing from Taylor's greatness to see him thus as a man who focussed his thought of the preceding age, carried that thought forward with a group of friends and colleagues whose united contribution was so outstanding as to constitute a "golden age" of management in the United States and laid the intellectual foundations on which all subsequent work in Great Britain and many other countries has been based. But it is impossible to understand Taylor's achievement or the significance of Scientific Management for our society, unless his individual work is seen against the background of this larger whole of which it is only a part.
  • An attempt will also be made to fill in some of the gaps in the first volume. The thirteen men and women herein described are by no means all and not necessarily the most distinguished of those who have contributed to the movement. It seems to have a special attraction for two types of mind—the employer or technician who finds in the direction of industrial work a responsibility to his fellows which outweighs in interest the commercial or technical aspect of his task, and the scientist specialising in some particular field, who is not satisfied to remain purely a specialist, but feels that the intellectual methods and the integrity of the genuine research worker have a wider contribution to make in the crisis which faces our civilisation.
    • Vol II, p. 18; as cited in: Hopf (1947).
  • Such men and women are not confined to any one country or to any one period. They are in the great tradition of humanism. Their work is as typical of the social heritage of the twentieth century as the work of Michael Angelo and Leonardo da Vinci was typical of the Renaissance. That heritage can neither be understood nor preserved, unless it is seen as the unified gift of many minds bearing on every aspect of life which has engaged man's long search for goodness, beauty and truth.
    • Vol II. p. 18as cited in: Hopf (1947).
  • It is this detachment, this use of comparison, his faith in the possibility of applying scientific processes of thought to the organisation of industry, which constitute Babbage's unique contribution to the advancement of management. More than half a century before Taylor was to illuminate the same point, with far greater effect because he was a practising engineer, Babbage had stumbled on the underlying truth that there are general principles applicable to the manufacture of products by machinery, and that it is an understanding of these principles rather than the technical knowledge of how to make a particular article which is of the first importance.
    • Vol II. p. 23 as cited in: Hopf (1947).
  • The concept of management as a specific body of knowledge and practice forming the basis of a specialised profession ... Wherever human activities are carried out in an organised and co-operative form, there management must be found.
    • Vol II, p. 216.



"Management's Debt to the Engineers", 1952


Lyndall F. Urwick, "Management's Debt to the Engineers," The ASME Calvin W. Rice Lecture. 1952;

  • If they (the ASME) had not been (aware of human problems involved) — and Taylor either failed to encounter, or to recognize the significance of, the early work in industrial psychology contributed by Walter Dill Scott, Hugo Munsterberg, and others — there was the amazing fact that one of them, Frank Bunker Gilbreth, happened to fall in love with a girl who was a psychologist by education, a teacher by profession, and a mother by vocation. I know of no occurrence in the whole history of human thought more worthy of the epithet "providential" than that fact. Here were three engineers — Taylor, Gantt, and Gilbreth — struggling to realize the wider implications of their technique, in travail with a "mental revolution," their great danger that they might not appreciate the difference between applying scientific thinking to material things and to human beings, and one of them married Lillian Moller, a woman who by training, by instinct, and by experience was deeply aware of human beings, the perfect mental complement in the work to which they had set their hands.

The pattern of management, 1956


Lyndall Fownes Urwick, The pattern of management. University of Minnesota Press, 1956.

  • There is nothing which rots morale more quickly and more completely than poor communication and indecisiveness - the feeling that those in authority do not know their own minds. And there is no condition which more quickly produces a sense of indecision among subordinates or more effectively hampers communication than being responsible to a superior who has too wide a span of control.
    • p. 43; cited in: Colin Combe (2014), Introduction to Management, p.118
  • Planning is essentially the analysis and measurement of materials and processes in advance of the event and the perfection of records so that we may know exactly where we are at any given moment. In short it is attempting to steer each operation and department by chart and compass and chronometer – not “by guess and by God”.
  • Before Mary Follett, industrial groups had seldom been the subject of study of political or social scientists. It was her special merit to turn from the traditional subjects of study - the state or the community as a whole - progressively to concentrate on the study of industry... Her approach was to analyse the nature of the consent on which any democratic group is based by examining the psychological factors underlying it. This consent, she suggested, is not static but a continuous process, generating new and living group ideas through the interpenetration of individual ideas.
    • p. 132-133, as cited in: John Sheldrake (2003), Management Theory, p. 74

Quotes about Lyndall Urwick

  • MAJOR URWICK and Dr. Metcalf have rendered a conspicuous service by editing this collection of Mary Follett’s lectures on business management. They contain teaching which was of importance when the lectures were delivered, and which many people felt should be preserved in a collated form and given a wider public. The circumstances of today have increased that importance. Many people are being called upon to fill new administrative posts, and these lectures teach the principles which should underly all administrative method.
  • Another exponent of the traditional classical approach is Lyndall Urwick, a British consultant. Urwick concentrated less on building an entire philosophy of management and more on collecting the basic ideas of earlier writers into an eclectic summary of classical concepts. He tediously compared the frameworks of Fayol, Taylor, Mooney and Reiley, and others and found a remarkable consistency in their conclusions... In a tabular presentation of statements from other writers, Urwick arrived at 29 principles of administration.
    • Joseph L. Massie (1967), "Management theory," in: Paul R. Lawrence and Jay W. Lorsch (eds.), Organization and environment, p. 413; Reprinted in: James G. March (2013), Handbook of Organizations (RLE: Organizations), p. 413
  • Lyndall Fownes Urwick (1891–1983) has been one of the most important figures in the development of modern management practices and thought. Central to his work was a passion for spreading the gospel of systematic and ‘scientific’ management through his activities as a management consultant, through his efforts in developing management institutions, and perhaps most of all, through what he later called his ‘mission at large’ in taking ‘modern’ management to managers and the wider public... Organization theory was his particular concern and provides his main standing in history. The principles were based broadly on managerial tasks, together with some general organizational precepts such as the correspondence of authority with responsibility.
    • Andrew Thomson and John Wilson (‎2013). "Lyndall Urwick,"in: The Oxford Handbook of Management Theorists. Abstract
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