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Running Head: Approaches to Management

Approaches to Management

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Management Science Approach

Management science approach, is the approach of using a mathematical model, and other analytical methods, to help make better business management decisions. The field is also known as operations research (OR) in the United States or operational research in the United Kingdom, and these 3 terms are commonly interchanged and used to describe the same field.

Some of the fields that are englobed within Management Science Approach include: decision analysis, optimization, simulation, forecasting, game theory, network/transportation forecasting models, mathematical modeling, data mining, probability and statistics, resources allocation, project management as well as many others.

The management scientist's mandate is to use rational, systematic, science-based techniques to inform and improve decisions of all kinds. Of course, the techniques of management science are not restricted to business applications but may be applied to military, medical, public administration, charitable groups, political groups or community groups (Kanigel, 1997).

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The most obvious cultural change in business management in the last 30 years is the advent of the management science motif. It's also the basis for the general loathing of management techniques and the utter contempt in which management is held by so much of the community. There's nothing more predictable in the workplace than a good ol bitching session about management. Ears will bend, curses will scour the air, and not too many people will disagree (Senge, 1994).

Management science, on the other hand, is barely understood. Even the idea that there is any science to management will still surprise a few people. Some managers are pretty skeptical of being told how to do their jobs by people who've never done anything of the sort themselves. Despite which, it's difficult to find an aspect of human life which hasn't been affected by management science (Brown, 1998).

There's an extremely cynical view of management culture, and it does have some truth to it. Back in the 1980s, the lawyers and accountants took over a lot of management functions. The theory goes that this is why human life is now seen as more of a statutory version of a spreadsheet than anything biological, or even logical. Lawyers and accountants used to be employees. Now, they control the corporate genitalia. Nothing is produced without their assent, nothing is verifiable without their sage advice. Perish the thought that any mad urge to do something without it ever be indulged.

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Then, according to the mythos, Human Resources muscled its way into the boardrooms, on the basis of political correctness and a drastically changed workplace and society. Employing people became a labyrinthine process, reams of enlightenment being supplied to the shell shocked managers to investigate in murderous detail every aspect of employment. Ask a question, and you get a library in reply. Management was held responsible for failing to kick this in the head before it became chronic (Kanigel, 1997).

This is a bit of an overstatement. Even the most nave managers do like to think they have something to do with managing their businesses, and that they're not the eunuchs in the harem. Well, at least not the only eunuchs. They do still have the power, nominally, to get rid of the various factions in their organizations (Senge, 1994).

However, the fact remains that management itself is now suffering from a bad case of over-management. Rituals fester in any management action, and they're not only standard operating procedure, they're also auditable. They show up as cost centers, policies, financial practices, and endearing little missives to the staff. It's not entirely surprising that "sanity" and "management" aren't synonyms (Ackoff, 1981).

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Management science, when discussed at all, is considered a way of management scientists creating jobs for themselves. This may occasionally (if definitely not always) be unfair, but a generation of missionaries spreading the word about "best practices" and a thousand other buzz words has done a lot of damage to the image. Management science has taken on an unhealthy amount of dogmatism, and a management scientist is often seen in the same light as a person who's trying to change your religion (Brown, 1998).

Worse, it's a very mutable thing. As one message from the bubbling cauldron of managebabble is absorbed, another is born. The messages change, conflict, and have to be interpreted by third parties. The Great Restructuring Crazes of the last few decades, and The Unfathomable Urge To Downsize At The Drop Of A Bit Of Dandruff, so globally popular, are the classic applications of a science which doesn't seem to have any concept of case management.

The trouble is that a simple idea, like "save money" can cause a crusade on the balance sheets. It can also castrate a business. Nothing wrong with the idea itself, but it's like saying you can save money on shoe leather, shoe polish, and socks, by cutting your legs off. No mention of the fact that jogging might become a bit problematic. So many businesses have lost not only the experience of the people they retrench, but the potentials for those people to earn them more money, in the name of "saving money". Worse, after the coffins have been carried away at the farewell parties, the company has also lost the people who speak its personal language, the ones who know their way around. There's a terrible price for that loss (Senge, 1994).

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Downsizing isn't the only example, but it's one of the best for broad analysis of management science at its least creative. One of the major problems in any workplace, and the one that affects profitability the most, is lousy, and/or antiquated, job design. Downsizing is a largely mathematical process. "We save money on wages" is a concrete figure, easily understood. "We lose money because we do nothing about making our people more productive" is rarely if ever mentioned, let alone taught (Brown, 1998).

If an employee costs X and brings in money as 2X, what's wrong with giving that employee a job that brings in 100X? Makes sense, but it's not in the script, though, as far as management science is normally applied. All those tens of millions of people could have been put to some other sort of profitable work, surely, or at least considered for it.

Renting large areas at incredible prices for the sake of people trudging in to work and spreading diseases is another bit of trivia that seems to have escaped the omniscient eye of the discipline. Nobody needs to sit at a desk any more. It's an anachronism. Most of the work being done could be done better by someone who hasn't just been risking his or her life in traffic for hours, or trying to navigate through the other joys of the Earthly Paradise.

Yes, there are reasons why people need to be in specific places to do certain tasks, but not all the time, and definitely not at those prices. "Rent an overhead" isn't necessarily the greatest idea anyone ever had, either. It's habit, more than need, which creates these environments these days. Most office work doesn't exist any more, if you have the right systems, and the Evidence Act condescends to acknowledge that paper is about as inefficient as you can get. Case management and clients are much better handled without the tyranny of compulsory locations and picky time frames. What's wrong with just using a basic shop front when you need one? There's more than a bit of irony in the fact that the style of management science which equates to "Cheapskate Management" has overlooked the big overheads so efficiently (Simon, Daellenbach, 1995).

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Then there's the minor matter of the fact that having downsized you have fewer people with which to pursue your goals and grow your business. If that 100X were coming in from each of your employees, would you be getting rid of them? The article of faith which says in graven letters "save money" has nothing to say about making money.

The Systems Approach

The term "systems" is derived from the Greek word "synistanai," which means "to bring together or combine." The term has been used for centuries. Components of the organizational concepts referred to as the "systems approach" have been used to manage armies and governments for millennia. However, it was not until the Industrial Revolution of the 19th and 20th centuries that formal recognition of the "systems" approach to management, philosophy, and science emerged. As the level of precision and efficiency demanded of technology, science, and management increased the complexity of industrial processes, it became increasingly necessary to develop a conceptual basis to avoid being overwhelmed by complexity. The systems approach emerged as scientists and philosophers identified common themes in the approach to managing and organizing complex systems. Four major concepts underlie the systems approach: (Brown, 1998)

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  • Specialization: A system is divided into smaller components allowing more specialized concentration on each component.
  • Grouping: To avoid generating greater complexity with increasing specialization, it becomes necessary to group related disciplines or sub-disciplines.
  • Coordination: As the components and subcomponents of a system are grouped, it is necessary to coordinate the interactions among groups.
  • Emergent properties: Dividing a system into subsystems (groups of component parts within the system), requires recognizing and understanding the "emergent properties" of a system; that is, recognizing why the system as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts. For example, two forest stands may contain the same tree species, but the spatial arrangement and size structure of the individual trees will create different habitats for wildlife species. In this case, an emergent property of each stand is the wildlife habitat (Trussler, 1998).

The systems approach considers two basic components: elements and processes. ELEMENTS are measurable things that can be linked together. They are also called objects, events, patterns, or structures. PROCESSES change elements from one form to another. They may also be called activities, relations, or functions. In a system the elements or processes are grouped in order to reduce the complexity of the system for conceptual or applied purposes. Depending on the system's design, groups and the interfaces between groups can be either elements or processes. Because elements or processes are grouped, there is variation within each group.

nderstanding the nature of this variation is central to the application of systems theory to problem-solving.

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Ecosystems are composed of elements and processes. (These are usually referred to as ecosystem structures and functions or the patterns and processes of an ecosystem.) As an example, the elements of a forest ecosystem might include trees, shrubs, herbs, birds, and insects, while the processes might include growth, mortality, decomposition, and disturbances (Simon, Daellenbach, 1995).
Some systems are open with respect to certain elements or processes (e.g., figure to the right). The elements or processes can flow into or out of the system. For example, an automobile engine is “open” with respect to gasoline--gasoline flows in and exhausts (oxidized gasoline) flows out.

Other systems are closed with respect to certain elements or processes (e.g., figure to the right). The elements or processes do not leave the system. For example, an automobile engine is largely "closed" with respect to lubricating oil--the oil does not leave the engine (Brown, 1998).

Ecological systems are open systems with respect to most elements and processes. They receive energy and nutrient inputs from their physical environment and, at the same time, cycle nutrients back out of the system. They are also open to outside influences such as disturbances (e.g., hurricanes, ice storms, fires, insect outbreaks) (Trussler, 1998).

Most systems contain nested systems; that is, subsystems within the system. Similarly, many systems are subsystems of larger systems.

For example, the nested system above right could represent:
atoms (black dots), molecules (red circles), cells (blue), and organs (green);
leaves (black dots), trees (red circles), stands (blue), and landscapes (green);
planets (black dots), solar systems (red circles), galaxies (blue circle), and universes (green).   Nested systems can be considered as a hierarchy of systems. Hierarchical (nested) systems contain both parallel components (polygons of the same color, above) and sequential components (polygons of different colors, above).
"At the higher levels, you get a more abstract, encompassing view of the whole emerges, without attention to the details of the components or parts. At the lower level, you see a multitude of interacting parts but without understanding how they are organized to form a whole."
Attempting to measure, study, or manage a system at a precision greater than the innate variation among its components leads to meaningless measures. At the upper levels of a hierarchical system, the amount of precision which can be measured, studied, or managed declines for two reasons:

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  • The elements or processes in parallel components of a system (e.g., two stands) are slightly different; therefore, combining them at a broader level (e.g., landscape) increases the innate variation of the average component (e.g., stand) (Kanigel, 1997).
  • The elements or processes in sequential components of a system are dependent on each other; therefore, variation in components become additive. For example, size variation among trees within a stand means that there is innate variation in the average tree size in a stand, and even greater variation in the average tree size when stands are combined into landscapes (Kanigel, 1997).

Moving information between levels of a hierarchy requires time. The variation in time needed to process different steps within a hierarchy can lead to innate temporal lags or bottlenecks. These can be minimized by not trying to consider a system with high precision from a single, central, upper hierarchical level (e.g., centralized planning by governments or regional models of ecosystems). Instead, such centralized levels are useful for generalities which allow local variation, while more precision is achieved through independent, parallel processes at more localized levels.

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Simon Peck and Hans G. Daellenbach, Systems and Decision  Making: A Management Science Approach, The Journal of the Operational Research Society, Vol. 46, No. 11 (Nov.,   1995), pp. 1396-1397

Ackoff, R. Creating the Corporate Future. New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1981, p. 21

Kanigel, R. The One Best Way. New York, New York; Penguin Putnam Group, Inc, 1997, p. 91, 97

T. L. Brown. Ringing up intellectual capital. Management  Review, Jan. 1998

S. Trussler. The rules of the game. Journal of Business   Strategy, Jan./Feb. 1998

P. M. Senge. The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of the    Learning Organization. Doubleday, New York, 1994

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