Chapter 4: Lean Production: The Dog That Did Not Bark
. . . lean production, as it inevitably spreads beyond the auto industry, will change everything in almost every industry – choices for consumers, the nature of work, the fortune of companies, and, ultimately, the fate of nations . . . (Womack et al. 1990: 12) 4.1 INTRODUCTION It has become so commonplace to see ‘lean production’ described as a phenomenon which first became obvious in Japan circa the mid-1970s that it is easy to forget that the term itself was only coined in the late 1980s, and in connection with the largest international productivity survey in the history of the car industry. This project was itself largely funded by the survey participants, with sponsors for the survey encompassing most of the major car assemblers in South East Asia and the West. It was carried out (alongside some smaller studies) by researchers working under the auspices of the International Motor Vehicle Programme (IMVP) based at MIT, an association which undoubtedly lent considerable prestige to the venture. And the survey itself was genuinely remarkable, a feature that we must not lose sight of as we proceed to offer some different views on its design and empirical findings. Because it enjoyed unprecedented support, with factory access and funding from the world’s car manufacturing industry, the scope of the survey was enormous. The popular account given by Womack et al. (1990) in The Machine that Changed the World was based on information obtained from more than 90 car assembly plants distributed around the globe – at the time amounting to what...
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