Lillian Gilbreth, Organizational Psychology, and Industrial Management

The study of organizational psychology and industrial engineering is all about optimization.

It’s about improving industrial efficiency by removing unnecessary complexity, simplifying tasks, and improving conditions for workers.

Lillian Gilbreth (1878‐1972) was from Oakland CA, and she grew up a shy girl who excelled academically and went to college to obtain a masters and a doctorate in psychology.

She is considered to be the first industrial organizational psychologist, pioneering many industrial management techniques.

In Ms. Gilbreth’s time, this was something new. Saliently, she developed new ways of applying her background in psychology to organizational efficiency. Industrial and
organizational psychology is the study of human behavior relating to the workplace. It applies psychological theories and principles to organizations and workers in their place of work. It also applies to our work-life more generally.

This is a game about eliminating complexity. Because it means looking at repetitive work and simplifying processes. It’s the pursuit of making the product better, working conditions better, and reducing operating costs. This is the paradigm of looking at factories as systems and making them function efficiently.

Why Organizational Psychology is Important

Organizational psychology is interesting to learn and should be a critical part of every engineer’s thought process in our design work. You can improve user experience by using these principles. Every factory and every system can be designed better by using insights from Ms Gilbreth’s industrial management work.

As engineers, our job is to learn how to design and build the most optimized systems. Every day, in multiple little ways, we have a chance to fix things or at least identify things that could be done better. The best engineers love to spot things that could be done better and do something about it.

Follow through, even knowing that you won’t always get support. The middle of commissioning and qualification is the wrong time for second guessing design: ask ANY experienced engineer.

The science is in; this isn’t a new idea. It was true last century and it will be true next century. Focus on eliminating complexity, focus on making it easier for operations and other manufacturing support staff to get their jobs done.

Our part to play as engineers is a very important one in this great infinite game of improvement.