This article explores two rival understandings of production and what it means to be a rational productive subject. Against ‘technicist’ models of productive reason, it defends a ‘phronetic’ model on both normative and pragmatic grounds. The discussion begins with a description of the general principles underpinning technicist theories of workplace organisation, principles which continue to inform work design approaches to this day. The technicist model is thereafter criticised on three counts: that it represents a specific managerial agenda which privileges sectional interests; that it is suspect morally for a number of reasons; and that despite its aspiration of arriving at ‘one best method’, it represents but one way of organising work processes. The phronetic model is then set out using the notion of ‘practices’ as a guide. This notion is important in providing a view of production in which technical reason is subsumed under a broader practical reason incorporating individual experience and judgement. Against the charge that this view is merely an instance of nostalgic craft romanticism having little relevance to present industrial realities, there are recognisable contemporary instances of phronetic production, one of the most interesting being Volvo’s innovations in automotive assembly systems.