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Rethinking lean supplier development as a learning system

Daryl John Powell (Department of Industrial Ecosystems, SINTEF Manufacturing, Raufoss, Norway) (Department of Industrial Economics and Technology Management, Norwegian University of Science and Technology, Trondheim, Norway)
Paul Coughlan (Trinity Business School, Trinity College Dublin, Dublin, Ireland)

International Journal of Operations & Production Management

ISSN: 0144-3577

Article publication date: 18 May 2020

Issue publication date: 20 November 2020




This paper investigates developing a learning-to-learn capability as a critical success factor for sustainable lean transformation.


This research design is guided by our research question: how can suppliers learn to learn as part of a buyer-led collaborative lean transformation? The authors adopt action learning research to generate actionable knowledge from a lean supplier development initiative over a three-year period.


Drawing on emergent insights from the initiative, the authors find that developing a learning-to-learn capability is a core and critical success factor for lean transformation. The authors also find that network action learning has a significant enabling role in buyer-led collaborative lean transformations.


The authors contribute to lean theory and practice by making the distinction between learning about and implementing lean best practices and adopting a learning-to-learn perspective to build organisational capabilities, consistent with lean thinking and practice. Further, the authors contribute to methodology, adopting action learning research to explore learning-to-learn as a critical success factor for sustainable lean transformation.



The authors acknowledge the support of the Research Council of Norway for the project Lean Management and research program SFI Manufacturing, Innovation Norway for the project Network for Supplier Innovation and the EU for the Erasmus+ initiatives EuroLEAN+ and LEAN 4.0.


Powell, D.J. and Coughlan, P. (2020), "Rethinking lean supplier development as a learning system", International Journal of Operations & Production Management, Vol. 40 No. 7/8, pp. 921-943.



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