Companion Editors Q&A: The Routledge Companion to Lean Management

We recently caught up with companion editors, Torbjørn H. Netland & Daryl J. Powell, to discuss their latest title The Routledge Companion to Lean Management. This is the first volume to provide an academically rigorous overview of the field of lean management.

The Routledge Companion to Lean Management (Hardback) book coverInterest in the phenomenon known as "lean" has grown significantly in recent years. This is the first volume to provide an academically rigorous overview of the field of lean management, introducing the reader to the application of lean in diverse application areas, from the production floor to sales and marketing, from the automobile industry to academic institutions.

This handbook is an excellent resource for business and management students as well as any academics, scholars, practitioners, and consultants interested in the "lean world."

Read the editors' Q&A below, or click here to purchase this companion.

1a) What are the main developments in research that you’re seeing in your subject area of expertise?

Daryl - The major contemporary developments that we have witnessed in the field of lean management are in fact twofold. Firstly, in the past 15-20 years we have seen extensive growth in terms of the breadth of lean application. What is widely acknowledged to have started out in the auto industry has now penetrated many other sectors, including healthcare, construction, higher education institutions and a diverse array of settings in the public sector. Secondly, we have observed a shift from the tool-based shop floor focus that stemmed from our early understanding of lean manufacturing, to a more principle-based approach to lean management, where scientific problem-solving, organizational learning and the adoption of a coach-like style of leadership have emerged as the primary factors of success

1b) How does your book relate to these recent developments?

Torbjørn - I think the great thing about this book is exactly that it picks up these trends and analyses them. Each of the 40 chapters of the Companion discuss the application of lean in a specific area. We asked established thought leaders and up-and-coming researchers to contribute to this discussion with their expert domain knowledge.

2. What makes the book stand out from its competitors?

Torbjørn - In contrast to the hundreds of consultancy books already available on lean, this book takes a fresh approach: it summarizes the academic knowledge of lean to date. Like many other popular business phenomena, lean has lacked an appropriate reference work for the body of scientific knowledge. The interest for lean in academia has grown significantly over the last years, following the rapid spread of lean in diverse types of industry across the world. A publication of a companion on lean is hence a timely contribution.

3. Is there one piece of research included in the book which surprised you or challenged your previous understanding of the topic?

Daryl - The greatest surprise was our discovery that the meaning of lean has evolved as it seeks new grounds of implementation. From our reading and analyses of all chapters we found that the common ground for lean across all application areas can be summarized with 3Ls: Leadership, Learning and Long-term perspective.

Torbjørn - Some of the classic “lean principles” that are used in the automobile industry are confusing - almost nonsensical - in other environments. For example, what is customer value in higher education? What is the application of inventory reduction in the police force? Is it an aim to reduce failures in innovation activities or software developments? And so on. The trick is to figure out what drives productivity in different settings.

4. What first attracted you to this topic as an area of study?

Daryl - I first become familiar with the concept of lean after graduating from my Bachelor degree in Motorsport Engineering in Swansea. At the same time, a good friend of mine, David Leese, introduced me to the Lean and Agile Master degree, also in Swansea. I studied the Master course part-time whilst simultaneously working as a full-time graduate trainee and Continuous Improvement Champion at Schaeffler (UK) Ltd. in Llanelli, where as a first tier supplier to the automotive OEMs in the UK I quickly became exposed to the Toyota Production System and other lean exemplars such as Ford and Nissan, for example. It was this combination of academic study and practical experience that really sparked my interest in lean.

Torbjørn - Lean, for me, is just a term or label for productivity improvement. Improvement of productivity is a key driver of wealth and welfare in society. I strongly believe that lean—if applied right and fairly—can create better operations, and ultimately better societies.

5. Tell us an unusual fact about yourself and your teaching or writing style?

Daryl - I guess the most unusual fact about me is my keen interest in balancing my role as a lean practitioner with an additional role as a researcher - which helps me to maintain a good overview of current trends and exciting developments in the field of lean management. Some might call me a lean “pracademic”. This also helps me to uncover and make use of modern blended-learning approaches, both in the classroom and at the Gemba.

Torbjørn - Some say I have the best moustache in the lean community… Besides that, I believe the type of empirical and industry-close research we conduct at the Chair of Production and Operations Management at ETH Zürich is of high need and demand in both academia and practice.

6. What advice would you give to an aspiring researcher in your field?

Daryl - My main advice to aspiring researchers in the field, or even-more-so a simple request, would be to keep it relevant for practitioners. Lean is of course by its very nature a largely applied concept, and the field should be advanced using practical insights that are firmly grounded in theory.

Torbjørn - I agree with Daryl.

The Routledge Companion to Lean Management, has recently been awarded the Shingo Research Award! This award is presented by the Shingo Institute, which recognises and promotes research and writing that has had a significant impact and advances the body of knowledge regarding operational excellence.

Routledge Companions in Business, Management and Accounting Series

Torbjørn H. Netland

Torbjørn H. Netland is Chair of Production and Operations Management at the Department of Management, Technology, and Economics at ETH Zurich, Switzerland.

Daryl J. Powell

Daryl J. Powell is the Lean Program Manager at the Subsea division of Kongsberg Maritime AS, Norway, and a visiting professor at the Faculty of Economics and Business at the University of Groningen, Netherlands.