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Frank and Lillian Gilbreth

Two of the pioneers in studying motion and how to make it more efficient were the husband and wife team Frank and Lillian Gilbreth. The Gilbreths’ work in time and motion studies quantified and analyzed the factors affecting workplace efficiency: the number of motions involved in a task and, subsequently, the time required to perform it.


Using motion picture cameras as part of their studies, they found that reducing the number of motions in a process not only made it more efficient but reduced the fatigue of the workers. They developed a system of 17 behavioral units to describe motion.


Some of the work that the Gilbreths’ are known for includes:

  • Some of the earliest methods for accommodating persons with disabilities

  • Adding a surgical nurse to hand the surgeon instruments in the operating room

  • Standard military techniques for rapidly assembling and taking apart weapons while blindfolded

Although they called it ‘time and motion study’ the Gilbreths were helping create the system now known as ergonomics. Under the influence of Lillian Gilbreth, they added the ‘human factor’ to Frederick W. Taylor’s time study.


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