Business History Review

Research Article

The History of Progress Functions as a Managerial Technology

John M. Duttona1, Annie Thomasa2 and John E. Butlera3

a1 John M. Dutton is professor of management at New York University.

a2 Annie Thomas is assistant professor of management at New York University.

a3 John E. Butler is instructor of management at New York University.


In this article, Professors Dutton, Thomas, and Butler trace the sixty-year history of a major managerial technology—the progress function—from its discovery in post-World War I airplane manufacture to its post-World War II popularity among management consultants. By statistically analyzing the large number of progress function studies, they demonstrate that its investigation has become balkanized by academic discipline, and that applied researchers have frequently ignored the contingencies stressed in the leading theoretical studies. Their article is thus a revealing example of how social scientific concepts get translated into business practice.