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Translating Lean Production: From Managerial Discourse to Organizational Practice
Linköping University, Department of Behavioural Sciences, HELIX. Linköping University, Department of Management and Engineering, Quality Technology and Management . Linköping University, The Institute of Technology.ORCID iD: 0000-0002-9155-189X
2009 (English)Licentiate thesis, comprehensive summary (Other academic)Alternative title
Översättning av Lean Production : från managementdiskurs till organisatorisk praktik (English)
Abstract [en]

The majority of organizational change efforts end in failure. These failures can often be ascribed to lack of understanding of the translation processes that accompany the implementation of management concepts. Translation becomes evident when the initial ambitions of an implementation process are changed as they are communicated through the organization, often leading to unwanted results.

This thesis deals with the translation of management concepts. The ambition is to contribute to the body of knowledge that is concerned with this theoretical direction through demonstrating how the currently dominating management concept Lean Production is translated as it is passed between contexts.

The thesis is based on three studies of management concepts at various levels of abstraction. The first study is based on a review of the major literature on Lean Production. The second study is based on a survey among Swedish production managers on their application of management methods and concepts. The third study comprises a series of interviews within a large Swedish industrial organization, focusing on how Lean Production has been translated during the implementation process.

The results show that Lean Production is far from well defined or unequivocal. There is always room for translation as the concept is passed between actors within an organization. It is therefore unreasonable to expect the concept to provide certain results. The results are determined by the way the concept is interpreted and translated within the organization that seeks to implement it. It is argued that insufficient translation competence will increase the risk of an uncontrolled and potentially ineffective translation process, leading to unexpected and undesirable results.

Through combining these results with existing theories within the management field, the author presents a tentative model for analyzing the translation of management concepts all the way from the general managerial discourse to the practice that can be observed at the factory floor of a company. It is proposed that this model may be used as a conceptual framework for further studies of the translation of management concepts.

Abstract [sv]

Majoriteten av organisatoriska förändringsinsatser misslyckas. Dessa misslyckanden kan ofta tillskrivas bristande kunskap om de översättningsprocesser som hänger samman med implementering av managementkoncept. Översättningarna blir synliga när de initiala ambitionerna i implementeringsprocessen förändras efter hand som de kommuniceras genom organisationen, vilket ofta leder till oönskade resultat.

Ambitionen med denna avhandling är att ge ett kunskapsbidrag till teorier om översättning av managementkoncept genom att demonstrera hur det för tiden dominerande managementkonceptet Lean Production översätts när det passerar gränserna mellan olika kontexter.

Avhandlingen är baserad på tre studier av managementkoncept på olika abstraktionsnivåer. Den första studien grundar sig på en genomgång av den centrala litteraturen om Lean Production. Den andra studien bygger på en enkätundersökning bland svenska produktionschefer och rör deras tillämpning av managementmetoder och koncept. Den tredje studien omfattar en serie intervjuer inom ett större svenskt industriföretag, där fokus ligger på hur Lean Production har översatts under implementeringsprocessen.

Resultaten visar att Lean Production är långt ifrån väldefinierat eller otvetydigt. Det finns alltid utrymme för översättning när konceptet kommuniceras mellan aktörer inom och mellan organisationer. Det är därför orimligt att förvänta sig att konceptet ska leverera särskilda resultat. Resultaten kommer snarare från det sätt som konceptet tolkas och översätts inom organisationen som avser att införa det i verksamheten. Det framhålls att bristande översättningskompetens kommer att öka risken för okontrollerad och potentiellt verkningslös översättningsprocess, vilket kan medföra oväntade och oönskade resultat.

Genom att kombinera de empiriska resultaten från de tre ovan nämnda studierna med teorier inom managementområdet presenteras en tentativ modell för hur översättning av managementkoncept kan studeras från den generella managementdiskursen till den praktik som kan observeras på verkstadsgolvet inom ett företag. Det föreslås att modellen kan användas som ett konceptuellt ramverk för vidare studier av översättning av managementkoncept.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Linköping: Linköping University Electronic Press , 2009. , 60 p.
Linköping Studies in Science and Technology. Thesis, ISSN 0280-7971 ; 1402
, Dissertations from HELIX Graduate School, 4
Keyword [en]
Lean Production, Translation, Implementation, Organizational change
Keyword [sv]
Lean Production, översättning, implementering, organisationsförändring
National Category
Business Administration Other Mechanical Engineering
URN: urn:nbn:se:liu:diva-18424Local ID: LiU-TEK-Lic 2009:10ISBN: 978-91-7393-630-9OAI: diva2:219069
2009-06-04, ACAS, hus A, Campus Valla, Linköpings universitet, Linköping, 10:15 (Swedish)
Available from: 2009-05-29 Created: 2009-05-26 Last updated: 2015-02-05Bibliographically approved
List of papers
1. Defining lean production: some conceptual and practical issues
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Defining lean production: some conceptual and practical issues
2009 (English)In: The TQM Journal, ISSN 1754-2731, Vol. 21, no 2, 127-142 p.Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

Purpose – The purpose of this paper is to investigate the definition of lean production and the methods and goals associated with the concept as well as how it differs from other popular management concepts. '

Design/methodology/approach – The paper is based on a review of the contemporary literature on lean production, both journal articles and books.

Findings – It is shown in the paper that there is no consensus on a definition of lean production between the examined authors. The authors also seem to have different opinions on which characteristics should be associated with the concept. Overall it can be concluded that lean production is not clearly defined in the reviewed literature. This divergence can cause some confusion on a theoretical level, but is probably more problematic on a practical level when organizations aim to implement the concept. This paper argues that it is important for an organization to acknowledge the different variations, and to raise the awareness of the input in the implementation process. It is further argued that the organization should not accept any random variant of lean, but make active choices and adapt the concept to suit the organization's needs. Through this process of adaptation, the organization will be able to increase the odds of performing a predictable and successful implementation.

Originality/value – This paper provides a critical perspective on the discourse surrounding lean production, and gives an input to the discussion of the implementation of management models.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Bingley, UK: Emerald Group Publishing Limited, 2009
Lean Production, Quality Management, Definition
National Category
Business Administration
urn:nbn:se:liu:diva-18419 (URN)10.1108/17542730910938137 (DOI)
Available from: 2009-05-26 Created: 2009-05-26 Last updated: 2015-02-05Bibliographically approved
2. Implementing Lean Production: Lost in Translation?
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Implementing Lean Production: Lost in Translation?
2008 (English)In: 40th Annual Conference on the Nordic Ergonomics Society, Reykjavik, 2008Conference paper (Refereed)
Abstract [en]

Organizational change is sometimes assumed to be a linear and predictive process, but the majority of change initiatives end in failure (cf. Beer, 2003). The results of the change initiative often differ from the initial ambitions, indicating that theories of translation may be useful in analyses of change processes.

The purpose of this paper is to investigate and analyze the early stages of implementing a lean-type production system in a large Swedish manufacturing company. Representatives from all organizational levels within the studied company have been interviewed. The interviews have been analyzed from an Actor-network perspective, using translation as a key component.

The company has not achieved the results that were expected, and in certain areas, the focus of the initial ideas has shifted in unforeseen directions. The analysis shows that this is a result of the translation of the core ideas of the new production concept (lean production).

A key finding is that the implementation process has allowed too much room for translation, thereby increasing the risk of change failure. The paper shows that people in managerial positions can benefit from taking the processes of translation into account in their work. Considerable efforts should be directed towards understanding the actors’ frames of reference and design information that suits the actors’ needs.

The paper uses Michel Callon’s framework for sociology of translation in the context of organizational change and on various levels of abstraction. The paper shows how the a translation perspective can be useful in researching processes of organizational change.

Actor-network theory, sociology of translation, lean production, implementation, organizational change
National Category
Business Administration Other Mechanical Engineering
urn:nbn:se:liu:diva-18421 (URN)
Available from: 2009-05-26 Created: 2009-05-26 Last updated: 2015-02-05Bibliographically approved
3. Quality Management in Swedish Industry: Concepts, Practices and Knowledge Base
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Quality Management in Swedish Industry: Concepts, Practices and Knowledge Base
2009 (English)In: The 12th international QMOD conference, 2009Conference paper (Refereed)
Abstract [en]

Purpose: The purpose of the paper is to identify different strategies in the application of Quality Management in Swedish industry. This purpose is divided into two questions; (1) what kind of management practices are applied in relation to which management concepts and (2) where do the organizations turn to seek knowledge about the applied concepts.

Methodology/Approach: A questionnaire survey was performed, where production managers in Swedish industry were requested to rate their rate of application of various management concepts and practices as well as their use of various information sources. Principal Component Analysis was applied to find patterns in the data, and cluster analysis was performed on the principal component loadings to identify groups of information sources, concepts and practices.

Findings: The analysis shows that three distinctive approaches to Quality Management can be identified, based on TQM/Six Sigma, TPS/Lean Production and ISO9000 respectively. In terms of seeking knowledge, there are also three distinct strategies: (1) a formal approach, focusing on external sources of information, such as university courses and professional networks; (2) an informal approach, focusing on easily accessible information in journals and the Internet; (3) a consultant based approach, seeking information mainly from management consultants. The consultant based approach seems to apply to all management concepts, whereas the two other approaches seem to be independent of the choice of concept.

Implications: This paper provides an empirical basis for classification of management concepts and practices, thereby providing support for practitioners aiming to select and implement a strategy for organizational change.

Lean, TQM, Six Sigma, ISO9000, Knowledge base, Principal Component Analysis, Cluster analysis
National Category
Engineering and Technology
urn:nbn:se:liu:diva-18423 (URN)
Available from: 2009-05-26 Created: 2009-05-26 Last updated: 2015-02-05Bibliographically approved

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