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context, implementation, Lean, quality improvement



  1. Harrison, Michael I.
  2. Paez, Kathryn
  3. Carman, Kristin L.
  4. Stephens, Jennifer
  5. Smeeding, Lauren
  6. Devers, Kelly J.
  7. Garfinkel, Steven


Background: Despite broad agreement among researchers about the value of examining how context shapes implementation of improvement programs and projects, limited attention has been paid to contextual effects on implementation of Lean.


Purpose: To help reduce gaps in knowledge of effects of intraorganizational context, we researched Lean implementation initiatives in five organizations and examined 12 of their Lean rapid improvement projects. All projects aimed at improving clinical care delivery.


Methodology/Approach: On the basis of the literature on Lean, innovation, and quality improvement, we developed a framework of factors likely to affect Lean implementation and outcomes. Drawing on the framework, we conducted semistructured interviews and applied qualitative codes to the transcribed interviews. Available documents, data, and observations supplemented the interviews. We constructed case studies of Lean implementation in each organization, compared implementation across organizations, and compared the 12 projects.


Findings: Intraorganizational characteristics affecting organization-wide Lean initiatives and often also shaping project outcomes included CEO commitment to Lean and active support for it, prior organizational capacity for quality improvement-based performance improvement, alignment of the Lean initiative with the organizational mission, dedication of resources and experts to Lean, staff training before and during projects, establishment of measurable and relevant project targets, planning of project sequences that enhance staff capabilities and commitment without overburdening them, and ensuring communication between project members and other affected staff. Dependence of projects on inputs of new information technology was a barrier to project success. Incremental implementation of Lean produced reported improvements in operational efficiency and occasionally in care quality. However, even under the relatively favorable circumstances prevailing in our study sites, incremental implementation did not readily change organizational culture.


Practice Implications: This study should alert researchers, managers, and teachers of management to ways that contexts shape Lean implementation and may affect other types of process redesign and quality improvement.