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Purpose: This paper explores the changes in communication patterns when companies implement Lean, and how those changes relate to Lean implementation success.

Design/methodology/approach: This is a multiple site case study involving four business units of a manufacturing company in South America, including two repeated measurement instances separated 24 months for approximately 600 direct workers and 65 supervisors. The analytical models include Social Network Analysis measures and Ordinary Least Squares (OLS) regression.

Findings: When implementing Lean: 1) teams have a higher frequency of communication among members. 2) Teams become more decentralized 3) Teams communicate more with supervisors and 4) Supervisors communicate more amongst themselves and collaborate more. Also, 5) Better performing teams change more pronouncedly.

Research limitations/implications: The study contains data for four business units but within only one company, limiting the external validity of the conclusions. The sample was predominantly male. Participant attrition and other potential covariates not included in the study can be additional limitations.

Practical implications: Lean implementations could be practically helped by managers by embracing and supporting the more intense communication patterns associated with lean success, and alternatively they could proactively detect barriers to communication by measuring how these patterns change or fail to change and try to unlock communication by working on those barriers, and supply communications infrastructure and opportunities for collaboration to try to boost the chances of success.

Originality/value: This is to our knowledge the first study measuring communication networks from the point of view of team members and low-level supervisors in Lean implementations. This is also the first study showing that communication patterns change more rapidly in more successful teams, and that communication pattern changes when implementing Lean can be an indicator of success.




Emerald Group Holdings Ltd.

Publication Information

International Journal of Quality & Reliability Management