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Country-specific barriers to implementing lean production systems in China

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posted on 24.07.2012, 12:14 by Marc Bollbach
This thesis examines barriers to the implementation of Lean production systems in China. The aim is to evaluate how implementation barriers affect a Lean production system, and whether they can be explained by Chinese national context factors. The thesis also aims to investigate the mechanisms by which such context factors influence the barriers. A socio-technical systems (STS) perspective is taken to interpret the relative importance of, and the interplay between, the social and the technical barriers to Lean implementation in China. To achieve the aims of the study, a multiple case study approach was chosen. I collected data at two Chinese plants of a globally-operating German automotive supplier in Suzhou and Changsha. As the main method of data collection, I conducted sixty qualitative interviews with Chinese and Western employees during a two month research trip to China. Using an iterative procedure of data collection and analysis, I developed a model that captures barriers to implementing Lean in China, the effects of these barriers on the production system, and influential context factors. Based on respondents perceptions, I identify six main implementation barriers, namely: High employee turnover , Weak supplier performance , Market conditions , Lack of Lean knowledge , Intercultural communication , and Work styles . The analysis highlights the effects of the barriers on specific elements of the Lean production system, and mechanisms by which the context factors influence the barriers. By exploring these mechanisms, I found strong evidence that Chinese context factors act as root causes or catalysts for the implementation barriers. The findings are corroborated through a comparison of the results obtained from the two locations in China, reports by Western and Chinese employees, and respondents at different hierarchical levels of the organisation. Through the Lean implementation model, this research contributes to the literatures on international Lean manufacturing and socio-technical systems. The study is the first to provide detailed empirical evidence of six main barriers, and to describe thoroughly why each barrier was a burden for Lean. The thesis also contributes to the Lean literature by demonstrating how the national context of China can create barriers and therefore play a significant role when implementing Lean in China. The central claim of the study is therefore that implementation barriers do exist in China and that a greater focus on these barriers is required in order to gain a better understanding of Lean implementation in this context. With regard to STS theory, the study highlights that the main perceived barriers to Lean implementation were situated within the social sub-system of Lean, and that some aspects of the barriers were created through a lack of joint optimisation of the social and the technical sub-system. The study therefore shows that STS theory is applicable to the context of Lean systems, and that it facilitates our understanding of barriers to the socio-technical Lean system. The study yields recommendations on managerial strategies for implementing Lean production in China, regarding people management as well as the adjustment of manufacturing facilities. A consideration of the national context can help practitioners to fully understand the causes of implementation barriers in China and, through this, to overcome these barriers. The thesis is concluded by reflecting on its limitations and suggestions for future research.



  • Business and Economics


  • Business


© Marc Fabian Bollbach

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A Doctoral Thesis. Submitted in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the award of Doctor of Philosophy of Loughborough University.

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