Academic journal article Annals of Business Administrative Science

Critique on the Lean Production System Research

Academic journal article Annals of Business Administrative Science

Critique on the Lean Production System Research

Article excerpt


The question, "What are the characteristics of high performance production organizations?" has seen considerable attention in the academia. Triggered by Skinner (1969), who focused on production activities as an important source of corporate competitiveness, much research has been conducted on monozukuri activities (development, production, etc.) since the 1980s. Hays and Wheelwright (1984) and Schonberger (1986) termed high-performance production firms as "world-class manufacturing" and "world-class competitors."1 Later, Womack, Jones, and Roos (1990) summarized the results of an international comparative analysis of production systems among automakers. It revealed that the monozukuri of Japanese firms (typically the Toyota Production System) performed better than those of Western firms and interpreted and conceptualized these characteristics as the "lean production system." Interest in the US manufacturing slump and the structure and success of monozukuri in Japanese firms in the 1980s developed2 into Western research on the lean production system, and researchers around the world have studied product development, production, and supply chain management (Clark & Fujimoto, 1991; Cusumano & Nobeoka, 1998; Flynn & Flynn, 2004; Flynn, Huo, & Zhao, 2010; Frohlich & Westbrook, 2001; Fujimoto, 1999, 2012; Fukuzawa, 2015; Fukuzawa & Inamizu, 2017; Holweg, 2007; Holweg & Pil, 2004; Inamizu & Fukuzawa, 2017; Ketokivi & Schroeder, 2004; MacDuffie & Pil, 1995; MacDuffie, Sethuraman, & Fisher, 1996; Oki, 2012; Shah & Ward, 2003, 2007; Swink, Narasimhan, & Wang, 2007; Takeishi, 2003).

In this line of research, it is essential to consider how has efficient monozukuri been understood and measured. This paper explores the contributions and limitations of some measurement scales aimed at quantitatively measuring the lean production system, through reviewing the existing questionnaire survey researches3 on the said subject.

Research Streams of the Lean Production System

(1)"Lean Production System" revealed by the international survey of automotive companies (HBS-IMVP Study)

Since the latter half of the 1970s, US researchers, mainly those at Harvard and MIT, have studied automotive companies owing to the growth of Japanese firms and difficulties of the US manufacturing industry (Abernathy, 1978; Abernathy, Clark, & Kantrow, 1983; Hayes & Wheelwright, 1984). Through the International Motor Vehicle Program (IMVP), the concept of the "lean production system" was presented using the Toyota Production System as a benchmark, and the direction of research on the performance of production and development activities has been set.

Further, multiple rounds of the IMVP were conducted; including detailed case studies and questionnaire surveys on production, development, sales, and supplier management. The IMVP was oriented to obtain objective performance data and organizational variables (interdivisional coordination and behavioral characteristics and authority of product managers), and, in addition to questionnaire surveys, it conducted on-site observations and interviews with practitioners.

Even in the automobile industry alone, there are differences between companies with regard to product complexity; thus, acquisition of numerical data on performance was difficult, requiring workarounds to make corrections (MacDuffie & Pil, 1995). However, empirical studies on major automakers throughout the world had a major impact on later research and presented influential concepts such as lean production system and heavyweight product manager (HWPM). These studies identified various characteristics for achieving high performance and showed that national and cultural differences do not create differences in productivity or other types of performance, validating that the management of development and production organizations and their strategies create performance differences. …

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