What is the experience of Irish manufacturing SMEs in overcoming the key barriers to sustaining a lean journey beyond initial stages?

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Brennan, Patrick
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MA of Business Administration
Dublin Business School
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Lean manufacturing is a widely accepted applied manufacturing philosophy which has been implemented across a range of industries worldwide since its rise to prominence in the 1990s. Lean is a key driver of operational efficiency improvement in global competitive markets and has been hailed as a game changer by organisations such are Coca Cola, xxxx. However, international research indicates that successful transformational Lean programmes may only occur in 1 in 10 instances. The financial and competitive benefits of introducing Lean increase the longer the Lean journey lasts. In many cases, organisations implement Lean only to abandon their efforts at a relatively early stage. Research shows, where a Lean implementation is abandoned, the accrued benefits dissipate and the organisation returns to state similar to the one it was at before Lean was attempted. A number of key barriers exist to sustaining a Lean journey beyond these initial stages and these barriers are more acute for small and medium size manufacturers. This study looks at the experience of Irish manufacturing SMEs in introducing Lean and how they approached the early inhibitors to sustaining their journey onward to a possible transformational stage. In particular the key barriers and how they coalesce around the organisations initial approach to lean and includes factors such as funding, motivation, expectations, understanding, leadership support and commitment. The study is based on a quantitative analysis of the views of 52 Lean consultants who have assisted 1,059 Irish manufacturers begin their Lean journey. The findings show that the foundation for the successful adoption of Lean must be laid at the early stages of implementation. Although Ireland is unique in that the state assists and recognises the need and competitive benefit of lean there is a question to the efficacy of how it is being funding model works. Whereas a high percentage of Irish manufacturing SMEs continue their journey beyond the initial stage more work needs to be undertaken in the areas of employee participation and engagement and the development of customer centric practices. This paper will provide an important contribution to how Irish manufacturing SMEs can successfully sustain Lean to a transformational stage, which should be relevant to both industry and academia.