Senior Managers and Lean- The importance of becoming a practitioner

Abstract: Considered to be one of the most influential paradigms in manufacturing, Lean has developed and expanded beyond the shop floor and manufacturing environment of the auto industry. Lean is considered to be applicable throughout organizations and other industries besides manufacturing. Interest in both research and implementation of the Lean concept, heavily influenced by Toyota Motor Company, is said to continue to increase despite the fact that the concept is said to be both ambiguous and difficult to implement. Two main traditions of Lean are said to exist: “toolboxLean” and “Lean thinking.” The particular translation of the concept that is accepted will influence management’s approach in implementing a Lean way of working. The Toyota Motor Company, where Lean originates, is described as a learning organization. Therefore, a management approach and leader behavior supporting organizational learning would be required to successfully implement an enterprise system inspired by both the Toyota Production System and Lean. This thesis approaches the Lean concept through an organizational learning perspective, thereby highlighting the importance of knowledge of organizational learning in a Lean development effort. Difficulties regarding Lean implementations have been shown to often occur due to the overlooked but crucial differences in approach in management. There is, however a stated gap in the literature on Lean production regarding management. The purpose of this thesis is to explore senior management’s ability to implement and sustain a Lean-based enterprise system. Three studies are included in the thesis. The first study focuses on how the view on Lean among managers implementing Lean affects its implementation. The study was performed as a case study and conducted at a larger, international manufacturing company. The study covered management levels from shop floor manager to the president of the company. Findings show that all management levels had a similar view of Lean and that this influenced the implementation. The first study further showed that the view on Lean may develop and change during an implementation, revealing unforeseen managerial and organizational challenges and obstacles.The second study focused on how management of Lean is described in the existing literature. The results revealed a dualistic complementarity between leadership and management, which can be seen as reflected in the two foundational Toyota principles of continuous improvement and respect for people. This duality can also be found in descriptions of prerequisites for organizational learning where the ability to combine transactional and transformational leadership is considered a success factor. The third study focused on implications for senior management and aimed to research senior managers’ ability to support a Lean implementation process. The study is based on interviews with eight senior managers. The study revealed four main managerial obstacles to Lean implementation. Lack of initial competence evaluation and ensuing competence development for senior management was found to be a central obstacle to Lean implementation. Main conclusions in the thesis are that initial understanding of the aims of a Lean implementation, and the ensuing implications for the organization is central in order to be able to support the development. Additionally, initial senior management competence development is indicated to be vital in order to ensure the ability to understand the organizational and managerial implications brought on by a Lean implementation. Leading with action is indicated as providing an opportunity for senior management competence development.