Purpose – Innovation is a key source of competitiveness in the knowledge economy, and continuous improvement (CI) is a key element of such corporate pursuit. The purpose of this paper is to explore links to prevalent shop floor conditions which support or prohibit the effective realisation of CI. Lean is a globally competitive standard for product assembly of discreet parts. Successful Lean application is conditioned by an evolutionary problem-solving ability of the rank and file. This is in itself contingent on employee involvement in improvement programs and the implementation of appropriate practices. But the challenge of operating innovative Lean systems lacks statistically valid guidance.
Design/methodology/approach – This empirical study is based on 294 worker responses from 12 manufacturing sites in four industry sectors.
Findings – The study identifies particular practices that impact employee participation in improvement activities and their performance outcomes. Process suggestions are driven by a combination of difficult working conditions that the workers seek to improve and team-based work. However, for suggestions on product improvements, significant practices are worker favorable industrial relations and human resource practices.
Research limitations/implications – To test work practices, work practice variables were measured with single items, trading lower measurement reliability for increased scope. Also, there is a moderate sample size, if addressed by selecting sites with a variety of practices.
Practical implications – The results indicate that the main business benefit is in enhanced product quality through process, rather than product, improvements, suggesting that management should pursue worker involvement on continuous process improvements, and employ designated design teams for product improvements.
Originality/value – The paper empirically identifies the relationship between particular work practices and product and process improvement in a Lean setting.
2012. Vol. 3, no 1, 74-84 p.
Brazil, Continuous improvement, Employees involvement, Lean, Lean production, Manufacturing industries, Production improvement