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Lean culture: a comprehensive systematic literature review

Marc Dorval (Department of Nephrology, Dr-Georges-L.-Dumont University Hospital Centre, Moncton, Canada)
Marie-Hélène Jobin (Department of Logistics and Operations Management, Ecole des Hautes Etudes Commerciales, Montreal, Canada)
Nadia Benomar (Department of Health Cluster, Ecole des Hautes Etudes Commerciales, Montreal, Canada)

International Journal of Productivity and Performance Management

ISSN: 1741-0401

Article publication date: 6 March 2019

Issue publication date: 11 June 2019




The purpose of this paper is to assess the level of pragmatic ambiguity (PA) lean culture has currently in the manufacturing and service literature.


A comprehensive systematic review of academic (journals, books and theses) and commercial literature was undertaken drawn from a six databases search of two keywords (“lean” and “culture”) and related citations.


A total sample of 1,066 references (678 academic papers, 121 books, 103 theses and 164 commercial documents) were analyzed. The authors found contributions from 67 countries but oddly, only two came from Japan. In total, 89 percent of citations were directly about lean culture. However, for 86 percent of them, lean culture was only discussed superficially. All four literature segments show an over 85 percent agreement on lean culture being an organizational aim. The authors encountered 103 definitions of organizational culture and found 13 definitions of lean culture. Issues of culture gap, leadership, human resource management, sustainability and innovation are found to amplify lean culture’s already high PA level.

Research limitations/implications

Further research and development are needed to decrease lean culture’s PA level and improve understanding of lean from a cultural perspective.

Practical implications

Current lean culture’s high PA level has positive and negative effects on lean implementation. Taking lean implementation from a cultural perspective may facilitate an organization’s lean transformation journey.


This is the first systematic literature review on lean culture using a broad and inductive approach. An original evidence-based definition of organizational culture is proposed.



Dorval, M., Jobin, M.-H. and Benomar, N. (2019), "Lean culture: a comprehensive systematic literature review", International Journal of Productivity and Performance Management, Vol. 68 No. 5, pp. 920-937.



Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2019, Emerald Publishing Limited

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