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Exploring organizational translation: A case study of changes toward Lean Production
Linköping University, Department of Management and Engineering, Quality Technology and Management. Linköping University, HELIX Vinn Excellence Centre. Linköping University, The Institute of Technology.ORCID iD: 0000-0002-9155-189X
2012 (English)Doctoral thesis, comprehensive summary (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

Lean Production has received massive attention during recent years, and many organizations attempt to introduce it with an ambition to reach the radical improvement effects that are promised in the popular management literature. However, introducing a management concept can be a very challenging task, and research has shown that the majority of such initiatives fail. A common observation is that the outcome of a change initiative differs from its initial intentions, which indicates that the content of the change is somehow transformed during the process. This kind of transformation can be described as organizational translation.

The purpose of the thesis is to provide an account of how processes of organizational translation transpire and to analyze and identify the main determinants of their outcome.

The thesis is based on a longitudinal case study that has focused on the introduction of the management concept Lean in a large Swedish manufacturing company. The study has been performed in two phases. In the first phase, a series of retrospective interviews have been performed with employees at all hierarchical levels within the company. The second phase of the study has been based on a prospective approach. This phase has comprised a combination of interviews, observations and document studies, with focus on a pilot project within the company. The study was performed between 2007 and 2011 and covers events between 2003 and 2011.

By analyzing the changes from a translation perspective, the thesis contributes to explore the meaning of organizational translation and the mechanisms through which Lean is materialized and developed into organizational practice.

Three types of organizational translation are presented in the thesis. These are defined as the activities and processes through which Lean is translated to a local set of ideas, practices and objects, respectively. It is suggested that these three entities and the corresponding forms of translation interact and together influence how people behave, which in turn will affect the results of the change initiative. This implies that all three types of organizational translation need to be addressed for a change initiative to be successful. Further, the suggested change must be translated so that it is represented in physical objects, people’s understanding and organizational practice. Lack of alignment between these three entities will create tension, which will likely hinder change and increase the risk of failure.

Abstract [sv]

Lean Production är ett koncept som har fått mycket uppmärksamhet under de senaste åren, och många organisationer försöker att införa det utifrån en ambition att uppnå de radikala förbättringseffekterna som utlovas i den populära managementlitteraturen. Att föra in ett managementkoncept kan vara en mycket svår uppgift, och forskning har visat att majoriteten av sådana initiativ misslyckas. En vanlig observation är att utfallet av ett förändringsinitiativ ofta avviker från de ursprungliga målsättningarna, vilket antyder att förändringens innehåll på något sätt har omvandlats under processen. Denna sorts omvandling kan beskrivas som organisatorisk översättning.

Syftet med avhandlingen är att ge en bild av hur organisatorisk översättning kan gå till samt analysera och identifiera de viktigaste drivkrafterna i sådana processer.

Avhandlingen baseras på en longitudinell fallstudie som har fokuserat på införandet av managementkonceptet Lean i ett stort svenskt tillverkningsföretag. Studien har genomförts i två faser. I den första fasen har en serie retrospektiva intervjuer genomförts med anställda på samtliga hierarkiska nivåer inom företaget. Studiens andra fas har baserats på en prospektiv ansats. Denna fas har innefattat en kombination av intervjuer, observationer och dokumentstudier, med fokus på ett pilotprojekt inom företaget. Studien har genomförts mellan 2007 och 2011, och behandlar händelser mellan 2003 och 2011.

Tre former för organisatorisk översättning presenteras i avhandlingen. Dessa definieras som de aktiviteter och processer varigenom Lean översätts till en lokal uppsättning av idéer, praktiker samt objekt. Det föreslås att dessa tre enheter och deras motsvarande former för översättning interagerar och tillsammans påverkar människors beteende, vilket i sin tur påverkar resultaten av förändringsinsatsen. Detta innebär att alla tre former för organisatorisk översättning måste tas i beaktning för att en förändringsinsats ska lyckas. De föreslagna förändringarna måste översättas så att de representeras i fysiska objekt, människors förståelse samt organisatorisk praktik. Brist på överensstämmelse mellan dessa tre enheter kommer leda till spänningar, vilka sannolikt kommer att hindra förändringen och öka risken för misslyckande.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Linköping: Linköping University Electronic Press, 2012. , 181 p.
Linköping Studies in Science and Technology. Dissertations, ISSN 0345-7524 ; 1422
Keyword [en]
Organizational change, Lean Production, Organizational translation
Keyword [sv]
Organisatorisk förändring, lean, organisatorisk översättning
National Category
Production Engineering, Human Work Science and Ergonomics
URN: urn:nbn:se:liu:diva-74621ISBN: 978-91-7519-974-0OAI: diva2:503206
Public defence
2012-03-16, C3, Hus C, Campus Valla, Linköpings universitet, Linköping, 10:15 (Swedish)
Available from: 2012-02-27 Created: 2012-02-02 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. Quality Improvement activities in Swedish industry: drivers, approaches and outcomes
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Quality Improvement activities in Swedish industry: drivers, approaches and outcomes
Show others...
2010 (English)In: International Journal of Quality and Service Sciences, ISSN 1756-669X, Vol. 2, no 2, 206-216 p.Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

Purpose – This paper aims to present and discuss the current state of quality-improvement activities in Swedish companies. The paper focuses on the drivers for quality improvement; types of approaches, tools and techniques, and organizational aspects influenced by quality improvement; and potential areas for improvement.

Design/methodology/approach – This paper presents results from a survey on quality improvement work in Swedish industry. Data for this paper were collected using a web-based questionnaire that was distributed to 800 production managers working in Swedish service and manufacturing organizations. Of the 800 questionnaires sent, a total of 118 questionnaires were filled out, which resulted in a response rate of 16 percent.

Findings – The result shows that the major drivers for quality improvement work in Swedish industry are economical aspects as the need for cost reduction, the need to become more competitive and the wish to increase market share. Drivers such as pressure from shareholders and trends in management have a minor role. The underlying approaches for quality improvement work are standards such as ISO 9000 and ISO 14000. A total of 72 percent of respondents stated that they work with quality management systems; 59 percent, with environmental management systems. The aspects that were most positively influenced by the improvement work were employee motivation, customer satisfaction, employee satisfaction, product/service quality, and flow in internal processes.

Research limitations/implications – Empirical results obtained in Sweden may differ to some extent in other countries.

Practical implications – This paper is intended as a source of inspiration for researchers, consultants, and managers who are interested in the current trends and future developments in the quality field.

Originality/value – The paper provides valuable insights into the current state of quality improvement activities in Swedish industry, as seen from the perspective of the production manager.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Emerald, 2010
Quality improvement, Quality standards, Total quality management
National Category
Production Engineering, Human Work Science and Ergonomics
urn:nbn:se:liu:diva-62694 (URN)10.1108/17566691011057366 (DOI)
Available from: 2010-12-02 Created: 2010-12-02 Last updated: 2015-02-05Bibliographically approved
3. Non-human resistance in changes towards lean
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Non-human resistance in changes towards lean
2012 (English)In: Journal of Organizational Change Management, ISSN 0953-4814, Vol. 25, no 6, 853-866 p.Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

Purpose: The importance of social issues is well established in the literature on resistance to change. However, much can be gained by including physical objects in the analysis. Using actor-network theory, this paper aims to explore the resistance of non-human actors in organizational change and contribute to an expanded understanding of resistance to change. Design/methodology/approach: The article is based on a longitudinal case study of the introduction of lean in a large Swedish manufacturing company. The empirical basis consists of interviews, observations and document studies. Actor-network theory is used as a theoretical lens to identify non-human resistance to change. Findings: The paper proposes that non-human actors can inhibit change through a lack of alignment with the overall change initiative. This may cause large variation in the interpretation of the proposed change and a lengthy process of construction and negotiation. The paper provides examples of four different types of non-human resistance that result from this lack of alignment. Practical implications: It is proposed that change initiatives need to be aligned with existing practice and anchored in objects that are integrated in organizational routines. The four types of non-human resistance presented in the paper may be used as a checklist to reduce the risk of failure. Originality/value: The predominant focus on social issues tends to disregard the impact of the physical environment in change processes. Actor-network theory and the inclusion of the physical environment will help to expand and improve the understanding of resistance to change.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Emerald Group Publishing Limited, 2012
Actor-network theory; Change; Change management; Lean production; Manufacturing industries; Resistance; Sociotechnical change; Sweden
National Category
Engineering and Technology
urn:nbn:se:liu:diva-75353 (URN)10.1108/09534811211280609 (DOI)

On the day of the defence day the status of this article was: Manuscript

Available from: 2012-02-27 Created: 2012-02-27 Last updated: 2015-02-05Bibliographically approved
4. Balanced Scorecard as Organizational Practice: A multi-perspective analysis
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Balanced Scorecard as Organizational Practice: A multi-perspective analysis
2010 (English)Other (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

Much academic attention has been directed towards management models, but there is limited research into the details of how these models are put to use in organizations. In this paper, we employ a multi-theoretical process perspective on the introduction of Balanced Scorecard in a Swedish healthcare organization. Through the application of actor-network theory, behavior setting theory and distributed cognition, we have identified a set of complementary observations and conclusions. First, we claim that a critical mass of actors is needed to support the change effort. We also emphasize the need for a problematization process in which critical voices are given room to influence the introduction. Further, we stress the importance of aligning the physical environment with organizational goals, and argue that well-designed feedback mechanisms may prevent undesired decoupling of managerial practice.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Linköping: Linköping University Electronic Press, 2010
Management models, change, process studies, multiple interpretations
National Category
Production Engineering, Human Work Science and Ergonomics
urn:nbn:se:liu:diva-75049 (URN)
Working paper.Available from: 2012-02-16 Created: 2012-02-15 Last updated: 2015-02-05Bibliographically approved

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