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The History of Progress Functions as a Managerial Technology

  • John M. Dutton (a1), Annie Thomas (a2) and John E. Butler (a3)
  • DOI:
  • Published online: 01 June 2012

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.

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Armen Alchian , “Reliability of Progress Curves in Airframe Production,” Econometrica 31 (October 1963): 679–93

Werner Z. Hirsch , “Manufacturing Progress Functions,” Review of Economics and Statistics 34 (May 1952): 143–55.

Theodore P. Wright , “Factors Affecting the Cost of Airplanes,” Journal of Aeronautical Science 3 (February 1936): 122–28.

David C. Mowery and Nathan Rosenberg , “Technical Change in the Commercial Aircraft Industry, 1925–1975,” Technological Forecasting and Social Change 20 (1981): 347–58.

William J. Broad , “Rival Centennial Casts New Light on Edison,” Science 204 (6 April 1979): 3236

David A. Hounshell , “Two Paths to the Telephone,” Scientific American 244 (June 1981): 157–63

Nicholas Baloff , “Extensions of the Learning Curve—Some Empirical Results,” Operational Research Quarterly 22 (December 1971): 329–40

Jack Hirschleifer , “The Firm's Cost Function: A Successful Reconstruction?Journal of Business 35 (July 1962): 235–55.

J. Black , “The Technical Progress Function and the Production Function,” Economica 29 (1962): 166–70

Sherwin Rosen , “Learning by Experience as Joint Production,” Quarterly Journal of Economics 86 (August 1972): 366–82

Eytan Sheshinski , “Tests of the ‘Learning By Doing’ Hypothesis,” Review of Economics and Statistics 49 (November 1967): 568–78

A.M. Spence , “The Learning Curve and Competition,” Bell Journal of Economics 12 (Spring 1981): 4970.

Sidney D. Howell , “Learning Curves for New Products,” Industrial Marketing Management 9 (1980): 9799

Louis E. Yelle , “Estimating Learning Curves for Potential Products,” Industrial Marketing Management 5 (1976): 147–54.

Werner Z. Hirsch , “Firm Progress Ratios,” Econometrica 24 (April 1956): 136–43.

Nicholas Baloff , “The Learning Curve—Some Controversial Issues,” Journal of Industrial Economics 14 (July 1966): 275–82.

K. Hartley , “The Learning Curve and Its Applications to the Aircraft Industry,” Journal of Industrial Economics 13 (1965): 122–28

Patrick Conley , “Experience Curves as a Planning Tool,” IEEE Spectrum 7 (June 1970): 6368

Douglas R. Hofstadter , “Mathematical Themas,” Scientific American 248 (January 1983): 1422.

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Business History Review
  • ISSN: 0007-6805
  • EISSN: 2044-768X
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