If you could use a time machine to pick up Fredrick Winslow Taylor, and bring him to our time, would he use PriceLine to find a hotel to stay in? We would have to fill him in on 100 years of technological development first, of course. This odd thought occurred to me as I was making arrangements to attend the process.gov event in Washington DC next month. It was Nathaniel Palmer who pointed out to me that using PriceLine is the antithesis to Scientific Management.
I work for a large, stable, and somewhat conservative company. We have a corporate policy for how to make travel reservations. We have corporate policies for a lot of things because that is what you do when you follow the precepts of Scientific Management. Everyone knows: a corporation should carefully analyze how to get the best rates at hotel in general, once that is known, require everyone to do it that way. Additionally, if you negotiate carefully, you can get a “deal”; that is, using the power of a large quantity of employee trips, you can negotiate a price break. That is Scientific Management: analyze, determing the best course, do the same thing over and over in a repeatable fashion, gain the benefit on the quantity of cases.
Priceline, however, throws a very disruptive curve into this thinking. Instead of planning ahead, you wait until the last minute. The hotel has exhausted the other ways to sell the room, so they are willing to accept a substantial drop in price, because that alternative is almost surely an empty room. Priceline actually offers many traditional plan-ahead bookings as well, but let focus on this last-minute bid approach. People who use this can capitalize on the fact that the plan-ahead crowd is not perfectly efficient. If you are willing to forego planning, wait for the last minute, rooms can be had for half price, or less. Or, you might find everything sold out in an area.
You have to be flexible. You don’t know exactly where you will be staying, and you have to accept it without knowing what it will be. It is hard to plan around this. This isn’t so unfamiliar: after all this is “just-in-time” booking, and it is another example of how mass customization is beating mass production. So, I would say that F. W. Taylor just does not seem like the kind of person who would wait for the last minute, and fill in the travel details on the fly, in order to save a few bucks. Indeed, the world has changed. Now, if I could only convince my company to allow this in the policy…