Introduction and aims: Research has shown that view on Lean production differs both between researchers and practitioners and that there is no uniform definition of the concept (Emiliani 2006; Pettersen 2009). Furthermore, the perspective on Lean production as toolbox or philosophy, sometimes expressed as Lean thinking, influences the Lean implementation. Implementation of Lean can be seen as a project or an initiation of an ongoing developmental process where learning is taking place (Rother 2010). The purpose of this paper is to survey managers´s wiew of lean in terms of “toolbox Lean” or Lean thinking and their view of the implementation process in terms of a project with a time limit or as an initiation of an ongoing developmental process. The intention is to increase understanding about the relationship betweenhow Lean production is defined and implemented.
Method: This paper is based on a case study at a Swedish manufacturing company aiming tobecome a company working with a business system based on Lean principles. The study has a multilevel, vertical, perspective covering five hierarchical management levels in the organization, from president of the company to first line managers at the shop floor. Data was collected through individual semi structured interviews with 14 managers at different organizational levels.
Findings and reflection: The view on Lean has, according to managers, evolved at all management levels within the organization during the implementation. From a starting point were Lean was perceived as a set of tools by most, it has, as the managers increased their knowledge evolved into a view that is more complex and also includes behavioral and cultural issues. This would indicate that even if the starting point of an implementation of Lean is Lean tool focused it may over time come to include issues of management protocol addressing cultural development, coaching and communication as learning regarding the organizational needs take place. The interviews showed that managers on different hierarchical levels of the organization believed there to be differences in view regarding Lean within the organization. We however found the view on Lean to be quite similar at all management levels, described as a customer focused; standardized way of working that is continuously improved by keeping a process focus. The impression of there being differences in view regarding Lean is most likely caused by a lack of dialogue between organizational levels within the organization. Varying competence levels regarding Lean and thereby varying ways of working within the organization may create a lack of support between production and support functions. Health and health promotion are seen as important factors at the production unit that was studied.
Research limitations: Organizational size and only partial coverage of the organization may limit the results validity to the parts of the organization that was researched and to larger organizations.
Value: This paper provides insights regarding the learning process connected to a Lean implementation and that alterations of perspectives and needs may take place during such a process.
Keywords: Lean production; Lean management; Lean implementation
Paper type: Case study