Dal Pont, Giorgia (2010) ENABLERS AND INHIBITORS OF LEAN ADOPTIONS IN SERVICES. [Ph.D. thesis]
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Lean Production has now attained the fame it deserves in the West, and is well established as a powerful tool to improve operations (Katayama and Bennett, 1996). Based on five principles that guide firms towards the identification of value for the client, elimination of waste and continuous improvement, the lean approach has been codified in specific practices that facilitate and standardize its introduction in every manufacturing firm (Womack and Jones, 1996). Given Lean’s origins in production, it is not surprising that the techniques have been designed for manufacturing areas and that they pay particular attention to the movement of materials (James-Moore and Gibbons, 1997).
Today the lean concept is arguably the paradigm for operations (Katayama and Bennett, 1996). The usage of the term ‘lean’ has been extended to include several different meanings and practices. However, despite the confusion in terminology, one common theme throughout all the literature on lean production is the focus on manufacturing companies, high-volume or mass producers (James-Moore and Gibbons, 1997).
In recent years, the five fundamental principles of lean philosophy (identify value, map the flow, create the flow, pull production, tendency towards continual improvement) have been applied also to other processes in manufacturing firms, and the development techniques for the purely manufacturing environment have been transferred to non-manufacturing areas, such as for example in the offices of new product design, purchasing and administrations. This practice is sometimes called Lean Office (Tapping and Shuker, 2003). Lean Production is not therefore a set of techniques exclusively applicable to a manufacturing environment, but practice suggests the necessity of recognizing the universal validity of the principles (Radnor et al., 2006), and that many techniques developed for production are applicable to non-manufacturing areas without any modifications at all (Grönroos, 1990; Hines et al., 2004; Åhlström, 2004).
So far the concept of lean management has not been extensively used to characterise service companies. However the sector of services is a highly interesting subject for both the academic community as well as the practitioners (Marchitto, 2001) and consequently also Lean Service, understood as Lean techniques applied to the sector of Services (Bowen and Youngdahl, 1998), is winning ever increasing approval from both the academic and consultancy fields (Grönroos, 1990; Hines et al., 2004).
However, practitioners have a manufacturing background and therefore often cannot make the best out of services while literature is mainly describing lean service applications. Moreover, researchers involved in lean production studies often adopt the perspective of manufacturing too. Scholars of service management, on the other hand, don’t seem to have dug into lean management issues with the same level of deepness. This situation creates a non unified vision of lean applications in services that leads to confusion and misunderstandings, and that prevent to build a rationale body of knowledge on the subject.
The theoretical research on Lean Service is still in the first stages of development and, though it recognizes the universality of the principles, it does not clarify what waste must be eliminated and how lean practices can be adapted to services. This is the theoretical and conceptual setting that inspired this work.
The thesis is organised as follows: Chapter 1 presents the general literature review that originated three research questions, RQ1, RQ2 and RQ3. Chapter 2, 3 and 4 answer to RQ1, and can be thought as the main thesis development, including the description of the method adopted in this part of the thesis (case studies), analysis of the main case study (TeleCompany) and findings. Chapter 5 answers to RQ2 and Chapter 6 answers to RQ3, and these two chapters can be thought as standalone papers that investigate some lean issues emerged from literature review of Chapter 1 and from findings of case studies in Chapter 4.
The first aim of this research work is to understand if and how lean management can be applied in services. To answer this exploratory question, a positioning literature review is presented in this chapter. It draws a picture of the state of the art of Lean Management literature and Service Operations Management literature, and analyzes contributions on Lean Service, the main arguments of this research. The literature answers to some issues on lean applicability in services, such as what principles and techniques are applicable and how their implementations improve performances. However, it also gives evidence to some differences in the lean implementation process that should be better investigated. The chapter ends with the introduction of the three research question that are pursued in this thesis, that are:
• RQ1: What are the differences in the application of lean manufacturing techniques to service processes? What are the key variables that enable and inhibit adoptions of lean management techniques in service processes? This questions are addressed in Chapter 2 (method), 3 (analysis) and 4 (discussions).
• RQ2: What are waste in service processes? This question is addressed in Chapter 5.
• RQ3: What lean manufacturing techniques are applicable to service processes? This question is addressed in chapter 6.
Chapter 2, 3 and 4
Following clues and ideas emerging from the literature review, explorative case studies are performed to investigate in more depth the variables relating to adoption of lean in a service company and give an answer to RQ1.
In Chapter 2 the method is explained. Four case studies are presented, in TeleCompany communication service company. Chapter 3 contains the within case and cross case analysis, while Chapter 4 discusses results.
Conclusions drawn from the case studies are multiple. Nine key contextual variables have been found to have an impact on the degree of lean implementation in the case studies, related to employee and job characteristics and office environment. Each of these variables seems to be able to enhance or inhibit the lean implementation. The resulting model links these variables to the degree of implementation of lean techniques. Variables with a positive relation are enabler of lean implementations. Variables with a negative relation are inhibitor of lean implementations. The conclusion is that service processes with a preexistent contest made of high degrees in inhibitors variables will not succeed in lean implementation, while processes with high enabler variables degree will implement lean techniques more easily. Companies with high inhibitors and few enabler should try to modify the state of these variables before starting any lean implementation.
Moreover case studies confirm what was found in literature review in Chapter 1, that is that:
- there is the need for a better identification of waste in service processes (RQ2), the subject of research in Chapter 5
- there are some issues in the adoptability/adaptability of lean techniques to service processes. Moreover from the discussion of case studies in Chapter 4 it emerged that this issues are linked to the key contextual variables of lean implementation in services. This issue (RQ3) is addressed in Chapter 6
The nine key variables of lean implementations in services have been contextualized in operations management literature, finding preexistent scales and measures that described similar aspects in previous researches. These measures can be used to build a questionnaire that will be administered to test the hypothesized relations, as a natural theoretical consequence of this study.
This chapter answers the research question RQ2: what are waste in service processes?
The first part of the chapter presents a literature review focused on waste. The literature review gives evidence that there is not a clear framework for waste that can be applied to every process, both in manufacturing and service processes. Thus, it has been tried to have more first-hand knowledge on waste in service processes through two focus groups in Azeta Insurance Group and in the Public Professional Institute for Social Service “Montagna”. The results indicate that not only waste are different among processes, but also that the impact they have on operational efficiency and customer satisfaction is different. A framework for waste identification and classification is proposed in this chapter, based on the literature review and the focus groups findings.
This chapter answer the research question RQ3: what lean manufacturing techniques are applicable in service processes?
Literature in Chapter 1 shows how lean can be successfully applied to services but highlights some differences from manufacturing settings that sometimes obstacles or prevent these applications. Moreover findings of Chapter 4 confirm these hints. The aim of this chapter is to understand if applications of lean techniques to service companies present differences with respect to lean applications in manufacturing companies.
The literature review section explores definitions of principles and techniques in lean manufacturing and then it makes a comparison with service contexts. On the base of this literature, a framework that links techniques to the principle they operate is proposed. The method adopted to answer RQ3 is that of the action research. Lean techniques are applied to the same service companies described in Chapter 5, Azeta Insurance Group and the Public Professional Institute for Social Service “Montagna”. Results show that techniques related to some principles are directly applicable to service processes, others need adaptations and other cannot be applied due to some service characteristics such as the presence of the customer in service processes.
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La Lean Production ha raggiunto la fama che merita in Occidente, ed è ben definita come un potente strumento per migliorare le operations (Katayama e Bennett, 1996). Basata su cinque principi, guida le imprese verso l'identificazione del valore per il cliente, l'eliminazione degli sprechi e il miglioramento continuo. L'approccio lean è stato codificato in pratiche specifiche che facilitano e standardizzano la sua introduzione in ogni azienda manifatturiera (Womack e Jones, 1996). Date le origini manifatturiere della Lean production, non sorprende che le tecniche siano state progettate per le aree di produzione e movimentazione dei materiali (James Moore e Gibbons, 1997).
Negli ultimi anni, i cinque principi fondamentali della filosofia lean (identificare il valore, mappare il flusso, creare il flusso, tirare la produzione, miglioramento continuo) sono stati applicati anche ad altri processi nelle imprese manifatturiere, e le tecniche sviluppate per la produzione sono state trasferite agli uffici. Questa pratica è talvolta chiamata Lean Office (Tapping e Shuker, 2003). La Lean Production non è quindi un insieme di tecniche applicabili esclusivamente ad un ambiente di produzione, ma la pratica suggerisce la necessità di riconoscere la validità universale dei principi (Radnor et al., 2006), e che molte tecniche sviluppate per la produzione sono applicabili anche nei servizi, senza alcuna modifica (Grönroos, 1990; Hines et al., 2004; Ahlstrom, 2004).
Finora il concetto di lean management non è stato ampiamente utilizzato per caratterizzare le imprese di servizi. Tuttavia, il settore dei servizi è di grande interesse sia per la comunità accademica,sia in ambito manageriale (Marchitto, 2001) e di conseguenza anche il Lean Service, inteso come le tecniche di Lean applicate al settore dei servizi (Bowen e Youngdahl, 1998), sta ottenendo l'approvazione sempre maggiore sia dal mondo accademico che della consulenza (Grönroos, 1990; Hines et al., 2004).
Tuttavia, i consulenti lean hanno esperienza di solito in produzione, e quindi spesso non riescono a capire a fondo il mondo dei servizi, mentre la letteratura è principalmente volta a descrivere le applicazioni di lean service senza entrare nel dettaglio. Questa situazione crea confusione e malintesi sulla definizione e comprensione del lean service, impedendo la costruzione di un corpo logico di conoscenze in materia.
La ricerca teorica sulla Lean Service è ancora nelle prime fasi di sviluppo e, anche se riconosce l'universalità dei principi, non chiarisce quali siano gil sprechi e come debbano essere adottate o adattate le techiche lean nei servizi.
La tesi è organizzata come segue: il capitolo 1 presenta la revisione generale della letteratura che ha dato origine a tre domande di ricerca, RQ1, RQ2 e RQ3. I Capitoli 2, 3 e 4 trattano la risposta alla RQ1, e possono essere pensati come la parte principale di sviluppo della tesi, compresa la descrizione del metodo adottato in questa parte della tesi (studio di casi), l'analisi del caso studio principale (TeleCompany) e i risultati. Il Capitolo 5 cerca le risposte alla RQ2 mentre il capitolo 6 indaga la RQ3. Questi due capitoli possono essere pensati come standalone papers, che indagano alcuni aspetti emersi dalla revisione della letteratura del capitolo 1 e dai risultati dei casi studio nel capitolo 4.
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