Learning lean: rhythm of production and the pace of lean implementation

Torbjørn H. Netland (Department of Management, Technology, and Economics, ETH Zurich, Zurich, Switzerland)
Jason D. Schloetzer (McDonough School of Business, Georgetown University, Washington, District of Columbia, USA)
Kasra Ferdows (McDonough School of Business, Georgetown University, Washington, District of Columbia, USA)

International Journal of Operations & Production Management

ISSN: 0144-3577

Publication date: 14 January 2021



Why some assembly factories implement a lean program faster than others is an enduring puzzle. We examine the effect of a fundamental characteristic of every assembly factory—its rhythm of production.


We designed a multi-method study and collected data from a leading global equipment manufacturer that launched a lean program across its factory network. We use quantitative data gathered from internal company documents to test our hypothesis that production rhythm affects the pace of lean implementation. We then analyze qualitative data from interviews and factory visits to derive theoretical explanations for how production rhythm affects lean implementation.


Consistent with our hypothesis, we present evidence that factories with faster production rhythms implement lean faster than those with slower rhythms. This evidence is consistent with learning theories as well as the literature on organizational routines and forms of knowledge. We propose a theory of the relation between rhythm and learning in lean implementation.

Research limitations/implications

The hitherto unexplored relation between production rhythm and lean implementation raises intriguing questions for scholars and ushers new insights into how organizations learn to implement lean.

Practical implications

Organizations need to calibrate their expectations for lean implementation pace when their factories have widely different production rhythms and find ways to mitigate any adverse effects slower rhythms may have. Organizations can alleviate the unfavorable context of slower rhythms by inculcating practices in the factory that emulate the learning environment present in faster-paced factories.


We contribute novel quantitative and qualitative evidence that production rhythm affects lean implementation through learning-based mechanisms.



Netland, T.H., Schloetzer, J.D. and Ferdows, K. (2021), "Learning lean: rhythm of production and the pace of lean implementation", International Journal of Operations & Production Management, Vol. 41 No. 2, pp. 131-156. https://doi.org/10.1108/IJOPM-02-2020-0092



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