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Lean production and sustainable competitive advantage

Michael A. Lewis (University of Warwick, Coventry, UK.)

International Journal of Operations & Production Management

ISSN: 0144-3577

Article publication date: 1 August 2000



Today, “lean” may no longer be fashionable but its core principles (flow, value, pull, minimizing waste etc.) have become the paradigm for many manufacturing (and service) operations. Given this pre‐eminence, the paper seeks to establish what impact it has had on the overall competitive positions of adopter firms. Combining normative and critical theory (from lean production and resource‐based view of the firm literature) with empirical material drawn from three case studies, the paper argues that lean production can underpin competitive advantage if the firm is able to appropriate the productivity savings it creates. Similarly, the ambiguity of lean production in practice means that the implementation process can create strategic resources to underpin sustainable competitive advantage. Problematically, however, the paper also suggests that being “lean” can curtail the firm’s ability to achieve long‐term flexibility. It concludes with suggestions for further work.



Lewis, M.A. (2000), "Lean production and sustainable competitive advantage", International Journal of Operations & Production Management, Vol. 20 No. 8, pp. 959-978.




Copyright © 2000, MCB UP Limited

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