Not so different altogether: Putting Lean and sociotechnical design into practice in a process industry

Torbjørn Hekneby, Jos Benders, Jonas A. Ingvaldsen


Purpose: The shop-floor organization under lean production (LP) has been hotly debated for about three decades. As this organization concept leaves considerable room for interpretation, the content of lean-inspired changes can vary widely. This paper pleads for a contingency view of how LP is implemented and how the outcomes of lean-inspired changes rely on users’ interpretations of the concept in particular production contexts.

Design/methodology/approach: A case study was conducted in two large Norwegian chemical plants. Data from the observations and interviews were supplemented by interviews with top managers in 2017 and 2018. The first author also followed a management audit in one plant, assessing the plant’s overall implementation of the company-specific production system.

Findings: The lean-inspired changes in the company had brought about a shop-floor organization typically associated with sociotechnical design (STD), including extensive employee choice autonomy and a broad span of control.

Originality/value: Our findings demonstrate the importance of understanding how lean is interpreted in different contexts. Our contingency view may aid organizational designers in making more-informed choices by clarifying relevant issues and trade-offs in lean implementations.


Lean production, contingency theory, organization concepts, sociotechnical design

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Licencia de Creative Commons 

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License

Journal of Industrial Engineering and Management, 2008-2023

Online ISSN: 2013-0953; Print ISSN: 2013-8423; Online DL: B-28744-2008

Publisher: OmniaScience