Year

2010

Degree Name

Masters of Information Systems and Technology - Research

Department

School of Information Systems & Technology

Abstract

Lean strategy has become widely recognised since it was first popularised by the Japanese automobile manufacturer Toyota. However, despite its promised benefits and widespread proliferation, Lean strategy has not been extensively adopted in process industries (e.g., steel-making). This study examines an unsuccessful attempt to implement Lean strategy in a large Australian steel-manufacturing organisation, and pays particular attention to factors influencing scheduling decisions. This attention to scheduling decisions is both unique to the literature and crucial to a deeper understanding of Lean strategy enactment.

Multiple facets are involved in the complex implementation of Lean strategy, and thus this study draws on multiple academic sources. Operations-management and behavioural decision-making literatures are reviewed, to identify aspects relevant to this complex initiative. Common to both literatures is the importance of schedulers, who daily make operational decisions that directly affect strategy execution. This study develops a framework for factors influencing schedulers’ decisions that affect the enactment of Lean strategy, based on a categorisation of factors: individual, task, and context-related.

Scheduling decisions often strongly depend on their context, and are sensitive to many interrelated factors. To identify these factors and provide an in-depth understanding of their influence on the enactment of Lean strategy, this study examines scheduling decisions within their natural setting, using an exploratory and descriptive approach. It employs a longitudinal and retrospective case study of a single company to examine these issues with greater depth than possible when examining multiple companies.

Specifically, this study draws on two sets of data collection, which cover two different perspectives on scheduling. The first set retrospectively examines the implementation of Lean strategy in a steel-manufacturing business unit. This includes interviews with eight of the individuals involved in the implementation, as well as archival documents. To overcome the limitations of a retrospective study, this study examines current scheduling practices and factors that influence their alignment with Lean strategy. This examination is conducted through a second set of interviews, which examines current influences on scheduling practices, by interviewing eight key scheduling-team members from two different business units. In addition, documents relevant to current scheduling practices were also examined. A thematic analysis of the two sets reveals factors from three different categories (individual, task, and contextual) that support or impede Lean scheduling practices.

Findings show schedulers are critical to the sustainable enactment of Lean strategy. Schedulers were found to influence the enactment of Lean strategy in two ways: (1) They facilitate cross-functional collaboration, which is necessary for Lean strategy, and (2) They have the discretion to balance and trade-off production and sales requirements. The level of alignment between this trade-off and Lean principles can sustain, or inhibit, the enactment of Lean strategy.

When examining individual factors that influence schedulers’ decisions, the findings highlight the role of schedulers’ interpersonal skills and intuitive decisionmaking. Interpersonal skills enable schedulers to enact a strategy that they find beneficial for the business. Intuitive decision-making is influenced by two main factors that impede the enactment of Lean strategy: (1) schedulers’ attitude towards Lean practices, and (2) emotions the schedulers expect as a result of following traditional practices versus Lean practices.

While schedulers are directly responsible for making decisions that align with Lean strategy, this study identifies several contextual and task-related factors that can also impede or support this alignment. These factors include assumptions shared amongst organisational members concerning the source of business success, the way to successfully address customer demand, the role of kanbans, the way to achieve high utilisation, and the length of lead times. The study extends existing literature on Lean strategy, by identifying factors that have the power to impede its adoption in the steel industry, and emphasises the important role schedulers play in sustaining alignment.

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