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Organizational structure, employee problem solving, and lean implementation

June M. Worley (School of Mechanical, Industrial and Manufacturing Engineering, Oregon State University, Corvallis, Oregon, United States)
Toni L. Doolen (School of Mechanical, Industrial, and Manufacturing Engineering, Oregon State University, Corvallis, Oregon, United States)

International Journal of Lean Six Sigma

ISSN: 2040-4166

Article publication date: 2 March 2015




The aim of this study was to understand the relationship between organizational structure and lean implementation success and to explore the impact of a lean implementation on the development of employee problem-solving skills. Organizations that implement lean manufacturing strategies experience widely differing results, with unexpected outcomes for some organizations.


This study was conducted using qualitative research methodologies. Specifically, a case study was performed at an electronics manufacturer in the northwestern USA over a three-month time period. The researchers collected data from a variety of sources at the manufacturing site.


Two significant findings emerged. First, the lack of dedicated personnel for the lean implementation inhibited the widespread adoption of lean practices. Second, evidence supported the role of the lean implementation in positively affecting employee problem-solving skills.

Research limitations/implications

This paper is relevant to most manufacturing organizations; however, lean implementations are likely as unique as the organizations themselves. Given that the study used a single-site case study, utilizing qualitative methods, additional research is needed to confirm the findings for a larger range of manufacturing organizations. The results do indicate, however, that an organization with fewer resources to dedicate to the lean effort may find the transformation process slow and may experience fewer performance benefits. Likewise, further empirical study would help strengthen the findings regarding the relationship between the lean implementation and noticeable improvement in employee problem-solving skills.


The literature stream for lean manufacturing provides examples of how lean implementations have not only noticeably affected tangible metrics related to profits and expenses but have also helped positively influence factors such as employee safety, morale and empowerment. For some organizations, considering the effect of these intangible factors before committing to a new manufacturing approach may prove useful. This study focused on exploring, in a much deeper way, through qualitative methods, how organizational structure can impact a lean implementation and how it ultimately acts as a catalyst for the increased development of employee problem-solving skills.



This research was supported by the National Science Foundation under grant No. SES-0217866. The authors gratefully acknowledge the organizational members of the case study site for their participation.


Worley, J.M. and Doolen, T.L. (2015), "Organizational structure, employee problem solving, and lean implementation", International Journal of Lean Six Sigma, Vol. 6 No. 1, pp. 39-58.



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Copyright © 2015, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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