Clarion Call to IEs: Let’s Improve Knowledge-Worker Productivity


The most important, and indeed the truly unique, contribution of management in the 20th century was the fifty-fold increase in the productivity of the manual worker in manufacturing. The most important contribution management needs to make in the 21st century is similarly to increase the productivity of knowledge work and knowledge workers. The most valuable asset of a 20th-century company was its production equipment. The most valuable asset of a 21st-century institution will be its knowledge workers and their productivity (Drucker, 1999).

The catalyst for the historic increase in productivity in the 20th century has been attributed to Scientific Management, the pioneering work of Frederick Winslow Taylor who is considered to be the father of Industrial Engineering. With this blog, I plan to focus specifically on the issue of productivity – what it is, why it’s important, how Industrial Engineering has contributed to the productivity of manual workers in the past, and how Industrial Engineering can build upon its proud heritage to meet the challenge of improving the productivity of knowledge workers both now and in the future.

I strongly urge you to answer the call to improve knowledge-worker productivity and I intend for this blog to serve as a forum for all those who are willing to meet the challenge. I plan to publish at least one post per month and I look forward to an active exchange of ideas. If you have any questions, any specific topics you would like to see covered, or any suggestions for how this blog can be improved, please contact me at

Casey John O’Donnell is a senior member of IIE and an experienced industrial engineer currently employed by Jeppesen, A Boeing Company based in Denver, Colorado. His background includes a variety of management and consulting roles in the manufacturing, logistics, and healthcare industries for such companies as Autoliv, FedEx, Kaiser Permanente, and Premier. He earned B.S. and M.S. degrees in industrial engineering from Kansas State University.