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International Journal of Production Research


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Managing barriers to lean production implementation:


context matters
a

Giuliano Almeida Marodin & Tarcisio Abreu Saurin

Industrial Engineering and Transportation Department (DEPROT), Federal University of Rio


Grande do Sul (UFRGS), Porto Alegre, Brazil
Published online: 14 Nov 2014.

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To cite this article: Giuliano Almeida Marodin & Tarcisio Abreu Saurin (2014): Managing barriers to lean production
implementation: context matters, International Journal of Production Research, DOI: 10.1080/00207543.2014.980454
To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/00207543.2014.980454

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International Journal of Production Research, 2014


http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/00207543.2014.980454

Managing barriers to lean production implementation: context matters


Giuliano Almeida Marodin* and Tarcisio Abreu Saurin
Industrial Engineering and Transportation Department (DEPROT), Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul (UFRGS), Porto Alegre,
Brazil

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(Received 28 January 2014; accepted 19 October 2014)


As the barriers to lean production implementation (LPI) are inuenced by the context, the search for generalisable
barriers, relationships, priorities and control measures is to some extent elusive. This study introduces a framework for
managing barriers to LPI in specic companies, which is comprised of ve stages: (i) description of the context; (ii)
identication of the barriers; (iii) analysis of the inuence of the context on the barriers; (iv) analysis of the relationships
among the barriers using interpretive structural modelling this sets a basis for prioritising the barriers; and (v) a
feedback meeting to discuss the results of data collection, which also informs on the development of an action plan to
control the barriers. The use of the framework is illustrated by a case study of a manufacturing plant. Data collection
involved interviews, observations and document analysis. A follow-up visit to the company was conducted 18 months
after the initial data collection, in order to identify changes in the context. The framework is a contribution in terms of
prescriptive theory related to LPI, and is also a means for the generation of data for developing descriptive theory related
to the barriers to LPI.
Keywords: lean production; lean implementation; barriers; interpretive structural modelling

1. Introduction
As lean production (LP) has been used for decades, by companies from several sectors and countries, a number of
implementation difculties have been reported. For example, studies carried out in British and Australian companies
from different sectors concluded that less than 10% of those that started lean production implementation (LPI) achieved
a high level of leanness (Baker 2002). Based on a survey of 433 American companies, Blanchard (2007) identied that
only 26% of them achieved substantial gains as a result of LPI. According to Marvel and Standridge (2009) few
organisations have achieved signicant improvements due to LPI.
As a result, a number of studies have focused on the identication and prioritisation of the barriers to LPI (e.g.
Turesky and Connell 2010; Boyle, Scherrer-Rathje, and Stuart 2011; Losonci, Demeter, and Jenei 2011). In general, the
conclusion has been that the barriers are mostly related to social and managerial issues, such as resistance of employees
(Bhasin and Burcher 2006). Nevertheless, the nature of the barriers, their origins, interrelations and relative importance,
are not yet well understood. In part, this is due to the lack of qualitative empirical studies that take into account the real
complexity of LPI (Taylor, Taylor, and McSweeney 2013), in contrast to a proliferation of surveys that, while helping
to identify what the barriers are, provide few insights into their details (e.g. Shah and Ward 2003; Boyle, ScherrerRathje, and Stuart 2011). For example, although the lack of support from top management is usually cited as a major
barrier to LPI, it is not clear why some managers are more supportive than others, nor is it clear how that support can
be measured. Moreover, barriers to LPI have been analysed as discrete entities, neglecting their interrelationships, such
as by Panizzolo et al. (2012). In fact, the fragmented analysis of barriers to LPI may reect the insufcient knowledge
about the systemic nature of lean (Saurin, Rooke, and Koskela 2013).
As another drawback, well-known methods for guiding LPI, such as value stream mapping (VSM), do not include
mechanisms for managing the barriers, as they usually emphasise the technical aspects related to lean practices (Marodin
and Saurin 2013). The unique features of each LPI also hinder the investigation of the barriers, as a systematic way of
identifying and analysing the role of context is required (Lewis 2000; Moyano-Fuentes and Sacristn-Diaz 2012).
Thus, considering the gaps in previous studies, the research question addressed in this study is stated as follows:
how to identify, analyse the relationships, prioritise and control the barriers to LPI, taking into account the role of context? As no earlier study had jointly addressed these how questions, nor had they been systematically connected to the

*Corresponding author. Email: gamarodin@gmail.com


2014 Taylor & Francis

G. Almeida Marodin and T.A. Saurin

context, a framework for managing the barriers is proposed in this study. The assumption that context matters, implies
the search for generalisable barriers, relationships, priorities, and control measures are to some extent elusive. Thus, a
framework is necessary for investigating those aspects in individual companies. A case study of a large manufacturer in
the USA illustrates the use of the framework. Its strengths and limitations are discussed based on the results of that
study.

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2. Barriers to LPI
Different terms have been used to designate the barriers to LPI. Scherrer-Rathje, Boyle, and Deorin (2009) refer to
sources of failure in LPI (e.g. lack of communication between workers from different departments). Key success
factors for LPI (e.g. availability of human and nancial resources) have been identied by Achanga et al. (2006) and
Farris et al. (2009). Of course, the opposite of those success factors can be barriers to LPI (e.g. lack of human and
nancial resources). In this study, the term barrier was chosen because it is less ambiguous than neutral terms, such as
factors or aspects. Furthermore, the same term has been used by a number of other studies, such as by Sim and Rogers
(2009), Bhasin (2012), Panizzolo et al. (2012), and Moyano-Fuentes and Sacristn-Diaz (2012). We dene a barrier to
LPI as any technical, organisational or social issue that compromises the efciency and effectiveness of that process. As
a basis for the identication of the barriers, we use the list proposed by Marodin and Saurin (2014), which was developed from a systematic literature review (Figure 1). Although those authors used the term risks to LPI, the reinterpretation as barriers is more suitable to this study. Indeed, risk management emphasises the anticipation of the future of a
process, rather than analysing its current situation, as focused on by this study.

Figure 1. Barriers to LPI (adapted from Marodin and Saurin 2014).

International Journal of Production Research

3. Research method

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3.1 Research design


The framework was based on three premises: (i) while the details of the nature, relationships and intensity of the barriers change from one company to another, a fairly generalisable list of barriers might be drawn from a literature review,
such as that by Marodin and Saurin (2014); (ii) the barriers are embedded in a socio-technical system (STS) that shapes
their nature, relations and intensity (i.e. there is a context); and (iii) the prioritisation and control of the barriers might
benet from the understanding of their interrelationships. In line with those premises, the proposed framework involves
ve stages: (i) description of the context of the barriers; (ii) identication of the barriers; (iii) analysis of the inuence
of the context on the barriers; (iv) analysis of the relationships among the barriers using interpretive structural modelling
(ISM) this analysis sets a basis for prioritising the barriers; and (v) a feedback meeting to discuss the results of data
collection, which also informs on the development of an action plan to control the barriers. As illustrated by Figure 2,
these stages are cyclical as the implementation of the action plan is likely to modify the context, which in turn has an
impact on the barriers.

Figure 2. Stages of the framework for managing barriers to LPI.

In order to assess the strengths and limitations of the framework, a case study was carried out. This is an adequate
research strategy as: (i) case studies are well known for producing knowledge on complex social processes (Eisenhardt
and Graebner 2007), such as LPI; (ii) case studies are useful to identify empirical relationships among variables (e.g.
barriers to LPI) from a small number of cases (Wacker 1998); and (iii) recent studies stress the need for more descriptive investigations of LPI (Taylor, Taylor, and McSweeney 2013), in order to shed light on the complexity of that process. The researcher responsible for collecting eld data had about 8 years of experience as a lean consultant and
instructor, in several sectors. Another experienced researcher in LPI supported the design of the study and data analysis.
A manufacturer of hydraulic components for machines and equipment, in the USA, was selected for the case study,
due to two main reasons: (i) it has adopted LP as a corporate strategy for about a decade, which made the existence of
barriers more likely in comparison with companies at early years of LPI; and (ii) the ease of access to the required data
for conducting the study, as the company had a long-lasting collaboration with one of the universities involved in this
study. One of the companys plants was chosen for the study at a meeting between the researchers and the corporate
director of LP, in which the research proposal was presented. The plant was an early adopter of LP in the company
(more than 10 years ago), and this was the main selection criterion. The research design followed the recommended
guidelines for increasing the internal validity, construct validity and reliability of case studies (Eisenhardt 1989; Yin
2003). The use of these guidelines makes it more likely that generalisable knowledge can be derived from case studies,
although generalisation is considerably overrated as the main source of scientic progress (Flyvbjerg 2011). The adopted
guidelines were:
(1)

(2)
(3)

the denition of a research question, constructs (i.e. the barriers to LPI), and data collection protocols, before
starting the eld study. Therefore, it was possible to identify which data should be collected in order to
describe the constructs and to identify how they were related to each other;
the triangulation of data collection methods, using interviews, observations and analysis of documents;
the partial overlap between the collection and data analysis activities, so as to identify the need for adjusting
the data collection protocols if irrelevant or inaccurate data had been produced. For instance, over the data

G. Almeida Marodin and T.A. Saurin

(4)
(5)

collection process the researchers realised that, in order to grasp the nature of the social interactions and technical details, it would be useful to attend the daily production meetings involving the management team;
the development of a database (e.g. transcripts of interviews and reports of observations of meetings), which
made it possible to track the origin of data as well as their reinterpretation as necessary;
the intentional selection of the case to be studied, in order to choose a relevant case in which all constructs
of interest were likely to exist, therefore allowing their empirical investigation.

The data were collected over eleven visits to the plant. Eight of them took place over one month, and the last three
visits occurred 18 months later, in order to assess the changes in the context and if they affected the barriers.

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3.2 Description of the context of the barriers


The context of the barriers to LPI was dened by two dimensions: (i) the work environment in which the barriers exist,
which is regarded as a STS formed by four interacting subsystems (Hendrick and Kleiner 2001): social, technical, work
organisation and external environment; and (ii) the historic evolution of LPI at the plant, from now on referred to as the
lean journey. Indeed, the way a social process evolves over time impacts on its effectiveness and efcacy (Cilliers 2001).
What is more, it is necessary to set boundaries for the investigated STS, in order to dene what counts as context. This
denition can be tricky as STSs are open systems, which means that they interact with broader systems (Mumford 2006).
Also, the boundaries of STSs are not objective facts, as they depend on the purpose of the study (Kroes et al. 2006). There
should be included inside the boundaries the functions the STS performs in order to generate its outputs therefore, geographical boundaries are not necessarily relevant (Kroes et al. 2006). In turn, a function refers to the activities, or set of
activities, that people carry out individually or collectively to produce a certain output (Hollnagel 2012). In this study, the
STS chosen for applying the framework was the manufacturing system of a producer of hydraulic components. The typical
functions it performed were processing, moving, storing and inspecting intermediate and nal products.
Data collection for describing the rst dimension of the context (i.e. the subsystems of the STS) was based on a
script with 50 questions, referred to as Form A, related to the subsystems that formed the STS for example level of
expertise of the workforce, type and quantity of machinery, quality management procedures and availability of qualied
labour in the region where the plant was located. Form A was completed using the companys website, audit reports of
the production management system, and interviews with the sales supervisor, a product design engineer and the lean
manager of the plant (LM).
Data collection for describing the second contextual dimension (i.e. the lean journey) was based on another script
with 20 questions, referred to as Form B for example what were the milestones of LPI? What practices were initially
adopted and why? Who coordinated LPI? These questions were the basis for another interview with the LM as well as
for the identication of relevant information from documents related to LPI, such as reports and power point presentations of the several kaizen events carried out from 2001 to 2012. Concerning the data collection for describing the two
contextual dimensions, each interview took about one hour, and they were audio recorded and later transcribed. Then, a
content analysis was undertaken in order to identify useful excerpts for the description of the context.
3.3 Identication of barriers to LPI
Data collection for the identication of barriers was based on: analysis of documents related to LPI, such as the previously mentioned reports of kaizen events and audits; observations of daily and weekly meetings of the management
team over two weeks; and seven interviews, one with the LM (so he was interviewed in three different occasions), one
with the production manager, two with value stream managers, one with a staff member dedicated full time to LPI
(known as lean specialist), one with a manufacturing engineer and one with a front-line worker. The main criterion
adopted for selecting those interviewees was their early involvement in the lean journey. All interviews were audio
recorded, transcribed and subjected to content analysis, in order to identify piece of evidence of the barriers. The average duration of the interviews was one and a half hour.
A third script, referred to as Form C, divided into three parts, was developed to guide the interviews. First, the interviewee was asked to report how they were involved in LPI. This allowed checking whether the interviewee had been
sufciently involved in LPI, so as to be likely exposed to some barriers. Second, the interviewee was asked to report
the main barriers they had identied. Third, the researcher presented to the interviewee the list of the fourteen barriers
identied from the literature review (see Figure 1), along with two questions for each barrier: (i) what is the current
intensity of this barrier? The intensity should be indicated over a six-level scale: 0 (this barrier does not exist), 1 (very
low intensity), 2 (low), 3 (average), 4 (high) and 5 (very high); (ii) why did you assign that score? Also, the

International Journal of Production Research

interviewees were invited to indicate new barriers that had not been included in the list, as well as to suggest
improvements in the wording of the barriers.

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3.4 Analysis of the inuence of the context on the barriers


Based on the data collected for describing the context and identifying the barriers, it was possible to identify contextual
factors that were either amplifying or dampening the barriers. As a data analysis framework, Figure 4 was developed
(see Section 4.3); it has the factors at the rows and the barriers at the columns. In the cells of Figure 4, the signal +
was included when the contextual factor amplied the effect of the barrier, and the signal meant that the effect was
dampened. Figure 4 was developed by the researchers, and it was later presented in a meeting with companys representatives, in which the main results of the case study were discussed.
In particular, the analysis of Figure 4 emphasised the identication of the contextual factors that amplied the
barriers and that, at the same time, could be fairly well controlled by the company. Indeed, in spite of their detrimental
effect, some factors could barely be controlled as they were part of the companys external environment.
3.5 Analysis of the relationships among the barriers as a basis for their prioritisation
The relationships among the barriers were identied through the use of the ISM method. This method is usually adopted
to identify, analyse and graphically represent the interdependencies between the elements in a system (Sage 1977). ISM
also classies the elements according to their impact on others (driving power), and their dependence on others (Raj,
Shankar, and Suhaib 2008). The higher the driving power, the greater the importance of the element is (Faisal, Banwet,
and Shankar 2006). The ve steps of the ISM were used in this study, following the recommendations by Attri, Dev,
and Sharma (2013):
(1)
(2)

(3)

(4)

(5)

to identify the variables that form the model (i.e. the barriers to LPI);
to design the reachability matrix (Appendix 1), in which the barriers were listed both in the columns and in
the rows. A 1 was marked in the cell of the matrix when the barrier that was in the row had an inuence
over the barrier that was in the column. A 0 was marked in the cell when there was no inuence. As an
assumption of ISM, if A impacts on B and B impacts on C, A necessarily impacts on C. Nevertheless, a 1 is not marked in the cell at the intersection between A and C. The matrix was lled out by the
researchers, based on the data collected for describing the context and identifying the barriers;
from the reachability matrix, it was possible to identify how often a barrier inuenced others (i.e. its driving
power), and how often it depended on others (i.e. its dependency). Those frequencies were used to plot the
barriers in a graph, allowing their classication into four classes: autonomous (low dependence and low driving power); independent (low dependence and high driving power); dependent (high dependency and low
driving power); and union (high dependence and high driving power);
to dene the level of each barrier in the model. This denition was based on a Table (Appendix 2) that had
the barriers in the rows and three columns. The rst column, referred to as reachability set, presents the barriers that inuence the barrier in the row. The second column, referred to as antecedent set, presents the barriers that are inuenced by the barrier in the row. The third column presents the classication of the barriers in
levels, based on the following criteria: those that were not inuencing any other barriers were classied as
Level I; those that had an inuence only on Level I, were classied as Level II. The same procedure was
repeated until all the barriers had been placed at the model;
in the graphical representation of the model, Level I was placed at the top and the other levels were below.
In that representation, arrows were drawn to connect barriers that inuenced each other at levels immediately
higher or lower. An assessment of the consistency of the representation was also carried out. For example, if
the reachability matrix pointed out that barrier A (Level III) had an inuence on both barriers B (Level II)
and C (Level I), the inuence of A on C should be presented in the model through an arrow linking A to B,
and through another arrow linking B to C. If, according to the reachability matrix, B did not inuence C, an
arrow from A to C should be drawn.

3.6 Feedback meeting and development of an action plan to control the barriers
The results of the case study were presented in a meeting with the management team and the corporate director of lean.
This meeting lasted about ve hours, and it was audio recorded and transcribed. It was an opportunity both to validate

G. Almeida Marodin and T.A. Saurin

the collected data and to gather additional evidence to support data analysis. A review of the research data with
respondents improves the accuracy of data and enriches interpretations (Voss, Tsikriktsis, and Frohlich 2002).
Initially, the researcher presented the description of the context, emphasising his interpretation of the lean journey.
Then, the average score of the impact of each barrier according to the perception of the interviewees (see Section 3.3)
was shown. Those scores were then discussed with the participants, and new insights related to the reasons why some
barriers were more impacting than others were obtained. In the next stage of the meeting, the researcher presented the
list of the contextual factors that either amplied or dampened the barriers. Again, the participants expressed their opinions and some minor adjustments in the list were made. It is worth noting that the corporate director of lean stated that
most of the barriers and contextual factors were similar to those found in other plants of the company, thus indicating
certain generalisability of the results. The model that emerged from the ISM was also presented and discussed.
A week after the feedback meeting, the management team held another meeting to develop an action plan to control
the barriers. Such plan was strongly based on the results of the case study, including recommendations for improvement
that had been proposed by the research team.

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3.7 Follow-up after 18 months


Eighteen months after the feedback meeting, one of the researchers returned to the company for three additional visits.
The main objective was to identify whether the context had changed, and how this may have affected the barriers. Such
information contributed to the empirical validation of the cyclical nature of the framework, and it helped to stress the
need for its existence, due to the dynamic nature of the barriers. Based on Form C (see Section 3.3), six one-hour interviews were conducted during the follow-up visits, with a value stream manager, the LM, a manufacturing engineer, the
production manager and two front-line workers. Only the rst three had been interviewed in the rst cycle of data collection. Again, all interviews were audio recorded, transcribed and subjected to content analysis. The follow-up visits
also involved the analysis of new documents related to LPI and observations of the daily management team meetings.
The results of the follow-up visits were presented in a meeting with company representatives. It lasted about four hours
and included the same stages as the initial feedback meeting described in Section 3.6.
4. Results
4.1 Description of the context
4.1.1 Main characteristics of the STS
The company had about two hundred plants in forty-eight countries and revenue of $13 billion in 2012. It produced
components and systems to enable motion and the controlled ow of liquids and gases for a variety of markets, such as
heavy, industrial and aerospace vehicles. The studied plant is located in the state of Ohio, USA, and began operations in
1983. It was one of three plants of the division of hydraulic valves. The administrative department of sales, supply
chain, product engineering, accounting and human resources for the whole division was located in the same facility.
Figure 3 summarises the characteristics of the four subsystems of the STS.
4.1.2 The LPI journey
LPI formally started in this plant in 2001, encouraged by a corporate vice-president who had experience with lean in
the automotive industry. Until 2003, the main activities had been six kaizen events coordinated by LM. Those events
focused on lean practices, such as standardised work and 5S, both in the administrative areas and in the shop oor.
From 2003 to 2008, LPI was supported by an external consultant, referred to as consultant A, and VSM was used as
the main tool to design improvements; VSM was developed by Rother and Shook (1998), and it has become an essential tool for most lean practitioners (Yang, Hsieh, and Cheng 2011; Yang and Lu 2011). Over that period, fourteen
kaizen events were conducted dealing with a variety of topics, such as reduction of product variety, pull production and
location of stocks near the point of use.
In 2008, a new director was appointed and determined that the LM was dedicated full time to LPI, as she was partly
dedicated to quality management until that time. In 2011, another director was appointed and consultant B was hired
he paid monthly visits to the plant. A typical visit of that consultant started with a walk through the shop oor, in which
he pointed out suggestions for improvements. Then, workers and managers presented the results of their improvement
initiatives to consultant B, who provided guidance on the next steps to be followed.

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International Journal of Production Research

Figure 3. Characteristics of the STS.

In fact, the changes in the way LPI evolved over time were not anticipated by any master plan. Changes were the
result of adjustments deemed to as necessary by the different directors who were in charge of the plant over the process.
Furthermore, although there was a corporate policy of using LP, plants had substantial autonomy to decide how
implementation would occur.
4.2 The identied barriers to LPI
Over the interviews mentioned in Section 3.3, interviewees considered that the barriers they reported could be encompassed by one or more of the fourteen barriers cited in Figure 1. Also, none of the interviewees assigned the score zero
for any barrier, which is another piece of evidence that they identied the existence of all barriers they were presented to.
Table 1 presents the scores for the intensity of the barriers, according to the interviewees perceptions. Barriers 6 and 7
were unied, due to two reasons: (i) the average scores of both barriers were equal (1.8); and (ii) the respondents had
difculties to discern middle from top management. While the production manager considered the plant manager as top
management, operatives and manufacturing engineers regarded the value stream manager as top management.
Overall, the data collected allowed a detailed description of the manifestation of each barrier. In this section, as an
illustration, barriers 11 and 3 are discussed. Concerning B11 (workers do not feel responsible for using lean practices
and solving problems), the strategy for involving workers in LPI was a major causal factor. Consultant B and the management team used to develop the solutions themselves, and then they asked the opinions of workers and coaches. Of
course, this was a low level of workers involvement, as they did not analyse the causes of problems and did not provide inputs at the early stages of problem solving. In fact, workers used to have a greater level of involvement in LPI
through the kaizen events that had happened until 2008. However, from that year on, kaizen events were suspended due
to a decision of the director of the plant. In the feedback meeting, that manager recognised the undesired side effects of
his decision, arguing that his intention was to encourage a greater involvement of the production manager in LPI, as
well as a more systematic use of VSM, which, in his view, was sufcient to identify the main problems and solutions.
However, workers were not involved in the development of the VSM either. A workers report about the design of a
supermarket of intermediate products, an initiative to support pull production, illustrates the low involvement: they (the
management team) did not care to know what I thought, and as a result the supermarket worked badly over a long time.
One year after implementation they asked my opinion. The batch sizes were too big, I said. I told them about that since
the beginning, but they didnt listen to me.

G. Almeida Marodin and T.A. Saurin

Table 1. Intensity of the barriers to LPI, according to the interviewees.


Barriers to LPI

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B1: People seem demotivated after a few years


B2: Lack of technical knowledge of lean by the support areas
(Engineering, IT, Logistics, HR, Purchase, Maintenance and others)
B3: Lack of human and/or nancial resources
B4: Lack of communication throughout the company
B5: Difculties in seeing the nancial benets
B6/7: Top and Middle management not giving enough support
B8: Lack of support on the shop oor
B9: Operators are insecure in carrying out new attributions
B10: Operators are afraid of layoffs due to improvements
B11: The operators do not feel responsible for using lean practices and solving problems
B12: Managers lack of technical knowledge and skills to guide the LPI
B13: Not sustaining the improvements in the medium and long term
B14: Having difculties to keep the pace of the on going LPI activities

Average
2.1
2.4
2.9
2.1
1.8
1.8
2.6
2.7
1.3
2.9
2
2.7
2.6

The coaches, who formed the hierarchical rank immediately above front-line workers, also had limited involvement
in LPI. For instance, the interviewed manufacturing engineer, who was one of the coaches, had not been involved in the
development of any value stream map, and he was not aware of the existing map of the future state for his own department. In fact, the responsibilities of the coaches were ill-dened, and they coached front-line workers only over a fraction of their time, which was mostly spent in the ofce. The functional layout and the substantial stocks between
operations (e.g. between some operations there was stock for 5 days), also discouraged workers involvement, as those
characteristics disguised instabilities. Also, there were no formal workers participation mechanisms, such as quality
control circles and programmes for suggestions of improvements.
Concerning B3 (lack of human and/or nancial resources), it was mostly related to insufcient or ineffective use of
staff dedicated to LPI. According to the report of a value stream manager, if we need money we get it, the main problem is the lack of staff to implement the changes we brought several product lines from other plants and we did not
add people there is no time available to make the improvements. Although there were staff members whose jobs
were formally connected with LPI (e.g. LM, lean specialist, value stream managers and the consultant), none of them
was full time dedicated to the implementation of the future states of the value stream maps.
B3 was aggravated by the dismissal of many workers as a result of the 2008 international nancial crisis. Production
volumes dropped about 30% in 2009. However, while in 2013 production returned to the pre-crisis level, the same did
not happen with the number of workers, especially with administrative staff. As a result, managers were overloaded,
and 10-h day shifts plus work at weekends were common.
The delay in the implementation of the maps of the future state was another piece of evidence of the high workload
of staff, as well as of its ineffective use. In fact, the management team prioritised the actions demanded by consultant
B, who had his own LPI agenda, not committed to the VSM approach. In fact, consultant Bs demands were prioritised
as he paid a monthly visit to the plant, in order to check whether his proposals had been set up. A similar control did
not exist to verify the progress of the future state map.
4.3 Inuence of the context on the barriers
Figure 4 presents the contextual factors that affected the barriers, as well as their association with the subsystems of
STSs. The lean journey was interpreted as a dimension of the work organisation subsystem, as it was mostly concerned
with managerial routines.
From the 34 contextual factors, 18 were associated with work organisation/lean journey, 9 with the social subsystem,
5 with the external environment subsystem and 2 with the technical subsystem. On one hand, the higher incidence of
factors related to work organisation/lean journey is in line with earlier studies (Bhasin and Burcher 2006) that have
pointed out the prominence of managerial barriers. On the other hand, the company has more control over management
factors in comparison with external environment factors. Figure 4 also provides a broader perspective of the forces acting on the barriers. For example, it indicates that B11 is amplied by six factors, without any dampening factors. By
contrast, B1 is amplied by three factors and dampened by four. Indeed, factors such as a sharing prot policy, audits
of lean practices, and the availability of nancial resources and (part-time) dedicated staff to LPI, have contributed to

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International Journal of Production Research

Figure 4. Inuence of the contextual factors on the barriers.


*These contextual factors are essentially the same that were identied by Marodin and Saurin (2013). **Contextual factors that no
longer existed 18 months after the action plan was designed.

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G. Almeida Marodin and T.A. Saurin

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maintain lean as relevant a decade after it started to be formally used. Nevertheless, such positive contextual inuences
have not been fully used, as illustrated by the example of the ineffective use of the external consultant. A similar example refers to the audits, which could emphasise the necessary practices for implementing the maps of the future state,
rather than the practices prioritised by consultant B.
Figure 4 also supports the identication of the contextual factors most often associated with the barriers, such as the
overlapping responsibilities for LPI at the shop oor (factor 9), and the lack of effective training on lean practices (factor 31). Each of those factors amplies six barriers, and they are examples of work organisation issues that are under
the control of the company. Moreover, the management of those factors could take advantage of core lean principles,
which paradoxically have not been used in the LPI process. For instance, the problem of overlapping responsibilities
could benet from the development of standardised work for managers, as suggested by Mann (2005). Similarly, the
ineffective training was partially due to the lack of hands-on training, which is in contrast with the lean approach of
learning by doing, especially through rapid and well-planned small experiments (Spear 2005).
As another important contribution, Figure 4 indicates that just 13 of the 34 contextual factors had already been identied by a systematic literature review of factors that affect LPI (Marodin and Saurin 2013). This result lends empirical
support to a core argument of this study, namely that knowledge of the barriers to LPI is still fairly supercial, and that
they have not yet been linked to the contextual factors that may be their root causes.
4.4 Relationships among the barriers to LPI and their prioritisation
Figure 5 presents the classication of the barriers according to the four categories mentioned in Section 3.5, and Figure 6
shows a diagram of the relationships among the barriers. The barriers classied as independent (B6/7, B11 and B12)
should be prioritised, as they have a strong driving power and little or no dependence on others. For instance, the model
indicates that the reduction of B11 (Level III) is likely to reduce B3 and B8 (both at Level II) and consequently B13
and B14 (Level I). As workers become more proactive and committed to the use of lean practices, thus reducing B11,
the workload of higher hierarchical ranks tends to decrease, thus reducing the impact of B3. Of course, B8 also benets
from the control of B11, as it is well known that people tends to be more supportive of change initiatives when they
participate in decision-making.
In order to illustrate how the barriers relate to each other, in this Section some relationships are discussed. For
instance, over the visits to the shop oor, the researchers realised that the hour-by-hour production boards used to be
fully lled out at the beginning of the shift. Moreover, the reasons for stoppages were not recorded on the boards.
Bernstein (2012) identied the same situation in a large lean manufacturer in China, in which there was mistrust
between management and workers. From the perspective of the interviewed manufacturing engineer, workers were

Figure 5. Classication of the barriers according to their driving power and dependence on other barriers.

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International Journal of Production Research

11

Figure 6. Causal relationships among the barriers.

unwilling to use the boards (i.e. B8 and B9) due to lack of support from middle and top management (B6/B7). According to his report if managers understood the role of the monitoring boards, and how they should be lled out, they
could stop there and ask workers these sorts of questions: why did not you achieve the target? Which are the causes?
Or they could simply praise the workers for everything going right. With the exception of the earlier production manager, no one else cares about the use of these boards. As he left the company, the priority left as well.
Figure 6 also shows that B9 (workers are insecure in carrying out new attributions) was inuenced by B12 (managers lack of technical knowledge and skills to guide LPI). One of the reasons for the low involvement of workers
regarding how to use lean practices (see Section 4.2) may be the insufcient knowledge of lean by managers. In fact,
managers were not using the lean principle that improvements should be made by the lowest possible hierarchical rank,
under the guidance of a teacher (Spear and Bowen 1999). In this case, the teachers (i.e. managers) rst solved problems
on their own terms and then asked the apprentices opinions (i.e. workers).
4.5 Action plan to control the barriers
A week after the feedback meeting, the management team developed an action plan to control the barriers, which
focused on three issues. First, in order to improve their skills and knowledge of LPI (i.e. to control B12), managers
made the decision to undertake biweekly meetings to discuss papers on LPI. These meetings were also intended to build
a shared mental model, reducing the dependency of consultant B, whose recommendations were sometimes blindly followed. Second, the responsibilities of the staff directly in charge of LPI were standardised and dened more precisely,
in order to avoid the overlaps that discouraged staff from assuming responsibilities and being accountable. Such actions
were intended to have a widespread effect on several barriers, such as B2, B6/B7, B9 and B11. Third, the activities of
consultant B and those of the internal staff dedicated to LPI were integrated, adopting VSM as the main link between
all teams. As one of the rst actions in this regard, consultant B was requested to conduct, from then on, the data collection and development of VSMs involving the team responsible for the value streams (e.g. manufacturing engineers,
senior workers, planners, buyers, cell leaders and workers). This action emphasised barriers related to the shop oor
involvement (B8, B9 and B11). It also impacted on B2 and B12, as the active management participation in VSM was
an opportunity to have hands-on training.

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G. Almeida Marodin and T.A. Saurin

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4.6 Contextual changes identied after 18 months


Several contextual changes were identied in the follow-up visits 18 months after the action plan was designed. While
some of these changes were the result of deliberate actions by management, others were due to causes beyond its control. As an example of the rst type of change, the production manager and a value stream manager were transferred to
another plant, and the services of consultant B were ceased. The retirement of three manufacturing engineers, and the
subsequent hiring of new employees, illustrates the second type of change. In fact, both examples are related to staff
turnover, which is well known as a detrimental factor for a number of dimensions of organisational performance
(Sterling and Boxall 2013). In sum, 22 of the 34 contextual factors that were originally identied remained (see the note
below Figure 4), although some of the remaining factors had slight alterations in their nature. For example, factor 26
(insufcient knowledge of LP by staff, see Figure 4) was affected by the hiring of new employees with limited experience in lean they lled the positions of those who had either retired or transferred. Factor 15 is a positive contextual
factor that disappeared after 18 months. It referred to a daily newsletter that presented news about LPI. In the follow-up
interviews, cell leaders complained about the ending of the newsletter, which they used in daily briengs with workers
before starting the journey; thus it was a drawback especially for B4. Furthermore, eight new contextual factors were
identied. For example, top management decided to focus on the implementation of no more than two maps of future
state at the same time. This clearer focus helped to use more efciently the human and nancial resources dedicated to
LPI, thus dampening B3.
5. Discussion
5.1 Holistic features of the framework
In comparison with earlier studies of barriers to LPI, a distinctive characteristic of this research is its holistic view. In line
with systems thinking (Skyttner 2005), understanding the barriers as inseparable from their context is a result of thinking
in terms of interconnections and causal links that are distant in space and time from actions of agents. While the manifestation of the barriers usually occurs through the behaviour of workers and managers, the framework encourages the search
for the broader factors that shape behaviours. This view is also fully aligned to lean thinking, which places a greater
emphasis on how the design of processes contributes to performance rather than on employees behaviour (Liker 2004). In
fact, the case study indicated that many barriers, such as those related to the resistance of workers, could be traced back to
the absence of an explicit design of the LPI process, which should itself be based on lean thinking.
Some examples of the lack of use of the lean principles by Liker (2004) may be cited: (i) lack of continuous ow in
LPI, as there were delays in the implementation of maps of the future state; (ii) rather than being pulled by the
demands identied from VSM, some lean practices were being pushed by consultant Bs own agenda; (iii) lack of
standardised work for managers, which made their LPI responsibilities unclear; (iv) ineffective use of visual controls, as
the status of LPI was not immediately visible for the interested parties for example some managers were not aware of
the existing maps of the future state of their own departments; (v) no search for consensus, as front-line workers had a
low level of involvement, and the proposals of consultant B were taken for granted as being right without critical
assessment, indicating that staff had insufcient knowledge of lean; and (vi) unlevelled workload, as staff formally dedicated to LPI were unable to balance their day-to-day administrative activities with those specically related to LPI.
From a lean view, staff was a resource shared among a couple of value streams, and thus dedication to LPI (i.e. one of
the value streams) was intermittent. The ideal situation, in a mature stage of LPI, would be that the value streams of
LPI and routine work were merged into one.
As the framework supports the analysis of the relationships among barriers, it also encourages thinking on the side
effects of measures to tackle individual barriers. In complex STSs, such as an organisation using LP, unintended interactions might happen (Cilliers 2001). For example, in order to tackle B6, top management demanded greater involvement
of production managers in LPI, associated with the use of VSM as the main tool for designing changes. However, that
decision was taken by the managerial staff as a veiled message that kaizen events would no longer be a priority, as top
management had greater expectations on the performance of managers. As a drawback, those events were not replaced
by other strategies allowing active workers involvement in LPI, and thus barriers related to workers resistance increased
(e.g. B8 and B11).
The use of multiple sources of data also strengths the holistic features and reliability of the data produced using the
framework. Multiple and complimentary perspectives were obtained from interviews with employees of different hierarchical ranks, analysis of documents, observations and validation of data by company representatives. This characteristic
of the framework allowed the emergence of details and contextual factors far away from the shop oor, providing a
richer picture of how LPI looks.

International Journal of Production Research

13

5.2 Required expertise for using the framework


Although in this study, the framework has been used by researchers, it is also intended to be used by practitioners. In
fact, the basic qualifying requirement for any user of the framework is a solid theoretical background on lean, which
includes an awareness of the need for searching for root causes of barriers. Of course, practical experience in LPI and
technical knowledge of the work domain are valuable assets. Also, the application of the framework by someone from
the outside of the investigated STS may be helpful, as it may provide fresh perspectives of difculties so entrenched in
the organisation that they may have become invisible for insiders. Due to the required effort for data collection and
analysis, as well as the multiple possible perspectives for data interpretation, teamwork is recommended when using the
framework. In this study, two researchers were involved in data collection and analysis. The collection of data was
broken down into about 22 h of interviews, 20 h of meeting observations and work at the front-line (this includes the
participant observation in the two feedback meetings), and the analysis of 35 different documents.
6. Conclusions

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6.1 Contributions of this study


The main contribution of this study is the framework for managing barriers to LPI, which consists of normative theory
for LPI. Such type of theory refers to the development of guidance about what actions will and will not lead to the
desired result (Carlile and Christensen 2004). The proposed guidance refers to the steps to identify, analyse the relationships, prioritise and control barriers to LPI, taking into account the role of context. Data analysis also allowed the emergence of a meta-prescription, namely that the process of LPI, and thus the management of barriers, should adopt lean
principles. While this prescription may appear obvious in hindsight, it seems to be neglected by both academics and
practitioners. As a result of the aforementioned characteristics, the framework takes a holistic view of the barriers to
LPI, which is a distinctive feature in comparison with earlier studies, which focused only on the identication and prioritisation of the barriers, without any systematic analysis of the context. Additionally, the follow-up step adopted in the
case study provided strong empirical evidence of the need for such a framework, as it showed that the barriers and their
context change over time.
Besides being a management tool, the framework is also a means for the generation of data for the development of
descriptive theory related to LPI. This type of theory consists of the description, classication and identication of relationships between constructs (Carlile and Christensen 2004). In particular, the framework provides methods for describing the barriers to LPI, to identify their relationships and to capture the small changes they may suffer due to alterations
in context. For instance, in the company studied, the barrier associated with lack of knowledge of lean was initially
associated with ineffective training and over reliance on consultants, and later it was affected by staff turnover. The lack
of ne-grained descriptions of the barriers is a aw of earlier studies, which is partially due to the adopted research
methods (i.e. mostly surveys).
Another contribution of this study, in terms of the description of relevant constructs to LPI and their relationships, is
the list of contextual factors and their associations with the barriers, presented in Figure 4. The logical relationships
between contextual factors and barriers are likely to be generalisable to other companies for example if the plant is
protable (contextual factor), this tends to facilitate the provision of resources for LPI (i.e. the barrier lack of resources
is less likely). Furthermore, the fact that only 13 of the 34 factors had been mentioned by previous studies reinforces
our argument that knowledge of the barriers is still scarce. Such data also conrm the aforementioned role of the framework as a means for generating data for more detailed descriptions of LPI.
Lastly, the framework is a practical contribution too, as it may help practitioners to solve the real life problem of
managing barriers to LPI. For the company under study, the framework worked as a basis for continuous improvement
of the LPI process, as illustrated by the action plan devised by the management team. For other companies, especially
those sharing a similar context, the instantiation of the framework is a source of ideas for the redesign of their lean initiatives. It is also worth noting that the framework has been successfully applied in other companies and it has been presented by the authors of this study as a content item of courses on LP offered to graduate students and practitioners
from a number of industrial sectors. This is expected to encourage the practical dissemination of the framework.
6.2 Limitations of this study
The limitations of this study should be mentioned. Firstly, the framework was not fully tested as a cyclical process, as it
is intended to be (see Figure 2). Although the researchers have conducted a second round of identifying contextual factors and barriers, the new priorities and control measures were not investigated. Second, the framework was tested in a

14

G. Almeida Marodin and T.A. Saurin

company that had about a decade of experience with lean, which may have had an inuence on the barriers, making
some of them more likely than others. Thus, applications in companies in both earlier and latter LPI stages may reveal
new difculties for using the framework. Third, the identication of the barriers was based on an existing list from the
literature review. While that list is valuable, it needs to be continuously updated as lean keeps spreading across countries
and sectors. It is possible that more customised lists need to be developed in order to match the particularities of lean in
certain contexts.
6.3 Future studies

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As a result of the limitations of this study, some opportunities for further research may be identied, such as: (i) to test
the framework in different contexts, such as sectors, countries and LPI maturity levels this might support the identication of the need for improvements in the framework as well as it might reinforce the generalisability of the proposed
steps; (ii) to develop mechanisms for monitoring changes in the context, as they can trigger changes in the barriers; (iii)
the design of methods to manage the barriers, using lean principles as a theoretical background; (iv) to integrate the
framework with existing methods of LPI, such as VSM; and (v) the design of serious games for teaching lean could
benet from the identication of the barriers and contextual factors that should be encompassed by the games.
Acknowledgements
The authors are grateful to the Center of Operational Excellence at the Fisher College of Business, The Ohio State University (USA)
and to Prof. Peter Ward, who facilitated access to the investigated company. They are also thankful to the Brazilian agencies CNPq,
CAPES and FAPERGS for funding this research project.

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Appendix 1. Reachability matrix

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The barriers on the line affect the barriers on the columns


B1: People seem demotivated after a few years
B2: Lack of technical knowledge of lean by the support
areas (engineering, IT, logistics, HR, purchase,
maintenance and others)
B3: Lack of human and/or nancial resources
B4: Lack of communication throughout the company
B5: Difculties in seeing the nancial benets
B6/7: Top and middle management not giving enough
support
B8: Lack of support on the shop oor
B9: Operators are insecure in carrying out new
attributions
B10: Operators are afraid of layoffs due to improvements
B11: The operators do not feel responsible for using lean
practices and solving problems
B12: Managers lack of technical knowledge and skills to
guide the LPI
B13: Not sustaining the improvements in the medium and
long term
B14: Having difculties to keep the pace of the ongoing
LPI activities

B1 B2 B3 B4 B5

B6/7

B8 B9 B10 B11 B12 B13 B14

1
0

0
1

0
1

0
0

0
0

0
0

0
0

0
0

0
0

0
0

0
0

1
0

1
1

0
0
1
0

0
0
0
0

1
0
0
1

0
1
0
0

0
0
1
0

0
0
0
1

0
1
0
0

0
0
0
1

0
0
0
0

0
0
0
0

0
0
0
0

1
0
0
1

1
0
0
1

0
0

0
0

0
0

0
0

0
0

0
0

1
1

0
1

0
0

0
0

0
0

1
0

1
0

0
0

0
0

0
1

0
0

0
0

0
0

1
1

0
0

1
0

1
1

0
0

0
1

0
0

Appendix 2. Levels of the model


LPI Barriers

Reachability set

Antecedent set

Level

B1: People seem demotivated after a few years


B2: Lack of technical knowledge of lean by the support areas
(engineering, IT, logistics, HR, purchase, maintenance and
others)
B3: Lack of human and/or nancial resources
B4: Lack of communication throughout the company
B5: Difculties in seeing the nancial benets
B6/7: Top and middle management not giving enough
support
B8: Lack of support on the shop oor
B9: Operators are insecure in carrying out new attributions
B10: Operators are afraid of layoffs due to improvements
B11: The operators do not feel responsible for using lean
practices and solving problems
B12: Managers lack of technical knowledge and skills to
guide the LPI
B13: Not sustaining the improvements in the medium and l
ong term
B14: Having difculties to keep the pace of the ongoing
LPI activities

B5
B12

B13, B14
B3, B14

Level II
Level III

B2, B6/7, B11

B13, B14
B8
B1
B3, B9, B13, B14

Level
Level
Level
Level

II
III
III
IV

B4, B9, B10, B11, B12


B6/7, B12

B13, B14
B8
B8, B11
B3, B8, B13

Level
Level
Level
Level

II
III
IV
III

B2, B8, B9, B12, B14

Level IV

B10

B1, B3, B6/7, B8, B11

Level I

B1, B2, B3, B6/7, B8, B12

Level I