How Mean is your Lean? Results of UK Study in Manufacturing

Tim W Franklin

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It is starting to become accepted amongst management that Continuous Improvement (CI) requires an appropriate organisational culture change to create a sustainable improvement and benefits stream.

Whilst this emanates from research which goes back to the early 1990s, it has been slow to gain acceptance amongst business leaders, possibly due to scepticism, as after all, organisational culture is seen by many as being intangible, ‘soft and fluffy’.

Practical experiences and setbacks in the successful adoption of Continuous Improvement by practitioners, coupled with continued research (for example, see Jager et al, 2004 ; Gallear & Ghobadian,2004 ; Tennant & Warwood & Chiang, 2002 ; Warwood & Roberts 2004 ) has led to this final acceptance that organisational culture is a contributory factor in the successful adoption of Continuous Improvement.

The study.

As part of a PhD research programme, a pilot study amongst UK manufacturing companies was conducted. All of the companies in the sample had implemented Lean manufacturing techniques, although at different points in time, so each could be regarded as being at different points on the ‘journey’, but they all shared dissatisfaction with the results they had each attained with their Lean programmes.

Organisational culture assessments, consisting of both quantitative and qualitative approaches were conducted with each of the companies, involving several days with each. The approach was consistently applied across all of the companies in the sample.

Some of the findings.

The results were analysed and the findings which were drawn from these which showed that overall, the top three categories of organisational culture which were ‘resisting’ Lean implementation were Communications, Training & Development of employees, and Planning.

Employees saw the type and level of communications as being inadequate in engaging them with Lean, often inconsistent and contradictory.

Insufficient training and development of staff before and after the initial implementation of Lean made left employees not knowing what it was all about, and how to operate in the new ways of working. This extended to managers also.

The planning category included both planning for Lean, as well as strategic and operational planning. Overall, employees felt that there was a lack of coherent planning and direction, which led them to doubt the ability of the management to manage, as well as to ‘lead’ the implementation of Lean.

Finding out more. If you would like to find out more about the findings of this research and practical ways of improving your Continuous Improvement (CI) programme, you can come and hear Tim Franklin talk at the Southern Manufacturing event and exhibition at Thorpe Park on Wednesday 8th February 2006 (“How Mean is your Lean?”), as well as on Thursday 9th February 2006 (“Accelerating your business improvement”). Alternatively you can contact Tim


Jager, B. d: Minnie, C; Jager, J. d; Welgemoed, M; Bessant, J; and Francis, D. (2004). Enabling continuous improvements: a case study of implementations. Journal of Manufacturing Technology Management, Vol 15, number 4.

Gallear, D; & Ghobadian, A. (2004). An empirical investigation of the channels that facilitate a total quality culture. Total quality management, Vol 15, number 8.

Tennant, C; Warwood, S. J. ; & & Chiang, M. M. P. (2002). A Continuous Improvement process at Severn Trent Water. The TQM Magazine, Volume 14, number 5.

Warwood, S. J. ; & Roberts, P. A. B. (2004). A survey of TQM success factors in the UK. Total Quality Management, Volume 15, number 8.

Tim Franklin MBA

Tim Franklin MBA is Managing Director of Ambiance Consulting Ltd. Following a long career in Manufacturing at senior level where he lead continuous improvement and change programmes, Tim has coupled his practical, gritty experience with academic study and is currently undertaking Doctoral level study towards a PhD in the area of Organisational Culture and Continuous Improvement performance. Tim works on transformational change programmes with organisations across a variety of sectors, both large and small.


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