GRM 2010 GRM 2011

Abstract Details

Family Name:
First Name:
Reynold P.
Title of Paper:
Are Lean Thinking Related Best Practices Sustainable in Private and Public Sector Organizations in the UAE?
Paper Proposal Text :
Like other nations in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), the UAE has implemented major economic diversification projects with the goal of transitioning from an economy fueled by natural resources to one that is innovative, knowledge based, self-sustaining and competitive on a global scale. This paper examines the extent to which Japanese lean thinking concepts have been successfully transferred into four large organizations in the UAE. Within the last four years, these organizations have been recipients of the Sheikh Khalifa Excellence Award, which is based on the design of the U.S.A.’s Malcolm Balridge National Quality Award and the European Foundation for Quality Management Award. The qualifying criteria for these awards are related to the attainment of Total Quality Management (TQM) goals, with TQM as a concept, being a derivative, or variant, of Japan’s lean philosophy. Therefore, we argue, that the scores obtained by organizations on measures related to TQM, are an accurate indicator of the extent to which Japanese lean practices have been successfully transferred to these companies.

A significant portion of the extant literature maintains, that the effective implementation of lean practices, demands a replication of Japanese socio-cultural and environmental conditions, out of which lean emerged within Japan over half a century ago. These researchers maintain that the efficacy of lean is contingent upon the environmental and contextual framework within which lean systems [that evolved in Japan] are deployed, and that environmental-contextual conditions dissimilar to Japan, often equate with diminished efficiency and operability of the lean model (e.g., James and Jones, 2014; James, 2012; Yokozawa and Steenhuis, 2012; Jones and Liu, 2005; Recht and Wilderom, 1998.). According to Robbins (1996), national culture significantly influences organizational culture, which in the context of this discussion would mean that national cultures differing from Japan, would result in organizational cultures being unreceptive of Japanese-grown concepts in their totality. Based on the foregoing, it’s possible to argue that since TQM originates from lean, the efficacies of TQM in a socio-cultural context different from the Japanese context-such as the UAE-would be of a diminished order. The significance of the present study lies in its attempts to examine how effectively lean concepts have been assimilated into the UAE, which arguably is dissimilar to Japan, in its socio-cultural and environmental context.

The existing literature on the Japanese concept of “lean,” and allied concepts such as TQM and Six Sigma is rich, e.g., James and Jones, 2014; Andersson, Eriksson and Torstensson, 2006; Liker, 2004; Womack, Jones and Roos, 1990; Deming, 1994; and Krafcik, 1988. Most researchers and practitioners support the view that there is more convergence than divergence, as regards the broad purpose that organizational improvement processes such as lean, TQM and Six Sigma share. More importantly, is the widely accepted view, that TQM and Six Sigma are variants, or derivatives, of lean, that owes its origins to its precursor, the Toyota Production System (TPS), the advanced, customised form of Toyota Motor Corporation’s lean model (see Anvari, Ismail and Hojjati, 2011; Andersson, Eriksson and Torstensson, 2006; James and Jones, 2014).

In short, whilst the debate in the literature on whether lean, TQM and Six Sigma are essentially the same or different from each other is ongoing, there is a strong body of evidence that emphasises the common—Japanese—origins of these concepts and the broadly similar objectives they purport to fulfil. Cementing the foregoing, is the explanation offered by Anvari, Ismail and Hojjati (2011), who liken the comparison of lean, TQM and Six Sigma, to the proverbial six blind men’s description of the elephant—the three approaches are variants describing the same organism.

Proponents of the lean philosophy describe it as being synonymous with dramatic improvements in the performance of the system in areas including productivity, quality, and flexibility. It is claimed that lean production uses less of everything in mass production: half the human effort in the factory, half the manufacturing space, half the investment in tools, and half the engineering hours, to develop a new product in half the time. Also, it requires keeping far less than half the needed inventory on site, results in significantly fewer defects, and produces a greater and ever growing variety of products (Womack, Jones, and Roos, 1991). The essential starting point for lean thinking lies in the concept of value. Anything that does not produce value can be classified as waste, and hence the basis of lean production lies in the relentless focus on identifying and eliminating all sources of waste (Jones, Mathew, and James, 2009). Because waste adds to costs, not value, a large number of tools and techniques have been devised with the purpose of detecting and reducing the magnitude of waste (Preece and Jones, 2009). In summary, a lean system involves 5Ss (sort, straighten, shine, standardize, and sustain) and several other elements, which include: a customer pull system; kaizen--continuous improvement; just-in-time production; kanban; minimal inventories; pull production; quick changeovers; value stream mapping; quick set-up times; standardized work; visual control systems; zero defects; make-it-right-the-first-time; greater product variety; more niche and customized products, etc. (Karlsson and Ahlstrom, 1996; Worley and Doolen, 2006; Forrester, 1995).

In this study, the participating organizations include a hospital, a municipality, a monetary fund, and a private bank. A 70-item survey has been developed that measures variables relating to the lean model, e.g., productivity, quality, leadership, the reward structure, continuous improvement and customer focus. The survey items were based on a five-point scale, which reflects the frequency with which the respondents believe the tools and techniques were used. The response format ranged from rarely (0-20% of the time) to most of the time or always (80-100% of the time). Surveys are being collected and will be analyzed by reporting descriptive statistics (the mean and standard deviation) for each organization. The variables, tools and techniques will be rank ordered to indicate which ones have been implemented with the most frequency in these organizations. Differences between variables will be tested by comparing the means in ANOVA to identify which of the TQM / lean practices were implemented the most extensively. The last section of the paper will address the implications of the findings; specifically, the challenges in terms of planning and implementation of lean strategies that are central to the economic development of the country.