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Lean Production in a Japanese Perspective Essay (Article)

Summary of the Article

“Lean production in a changing competitive world: a Japanese perspective” by Hiroshi Katayama

The concept of lean production gained popularity in the 1990s due to emergence of machines that could easily replace human labor in a more efficient and effective manner at reduced costs to the firm. The Japanese firms realized that they needed strategies that would either replace or improve some of the existing principles such as Just-in-Time, Total Quality Management, and Total Productive Maintenance. Lean production involves using fewer resources to produce high quality products as a way of increasing their competitiveness in the market.

It meant replacing human capital with machines, eliminating processes within production department that were unnecessary, and maintaining a highly efficient workforce. The aim of this concept was to improve efficiency in production, improve quality of the products, and to lower unit cost of presenting a product to the market to enable the firm set competitive prices. This concept was influenced by external and internal environmental factors such as market competition and increasingly demanding employees. The case studies presented in this article confirm that lean production helps in improving efficiency and lowering cost of production.

Learning points of the articles related to operation management

The following are some of the important learning points of the article in relation to operation management.

  • It is important for a firm to identify areas of weaknesses and redundancies in its operations and eliminate them as a way of improving efficiency.
  • Lean production entails maintaining a small but highly efficient workforce.
  • Replacing human resource with machines may not necessarily mean lean production.
  • All the stakeholders should be involved when a firm is moving towards lean production to enhance smooth transition.

Critical Analysis of the Article

This article focuses on lean production as a new concept emerging in Japan in the face of a changing competitive business environment. It points out correctly that Japan is one of the countries that have emerged with some of the best production concepts making their products more competitive in the global market. Total Quality Management and Just-in-Time concepts had massive impact in the field of operations management. They pointed out at weaknesses that exist in the operations management at that time, and ways in which they could be addressed to improve efficiency and lower the cost. This new concept of lean production also focused on lowering cost of production and improving quality using small but efficient resources.

According to Johnston, Clark and Shulver (2012), it is important for a researcher to be comprehensive when reviewing a concept that is used globally. It means that there should be a deliberate attempt to compare how the concept is used in different countries and its successful rates in those countries. This article has comprehensively looked at how lean production has helped a number of Japan’s companies to excel in the global market more than companies from Europe and North America. It gives an example of Toyota, one of the most successful Japanese companies in the global motor industry. Toyota was considered a small company in the car manufacturing industry compared to global giants such as Ford, General Motors, and German’s car makers such as Mercedes Benz.

However, its emphasis on efficient production strategies enabled it to gain massive success in the market, making it one of the most successful car manufacturers in the current market. Dennis (2007) says that it is necessary to give clear examples when explaining a concept to enable the audience to comprehend the information in practical contexts. This article has done exactly that. After explaining the concept and stating how firms are using it to their advantage, the article has given a series of examples to help its readers to understand how it is always put into practice. The examples are very elaborate in comparing the past operation performance before the implementation and the present state after the implementation. This way, the impact of the concept becomes very clear to the readers.

It is important to note that the article has some weaknesses which are worth noting. The main weakness is that it has overemphasized on how this concept has been relevant in Japanese context. It would be more appropriate to bring out concrete comparison between how the concept worked with Japan and how it worked in other parts of the world. All the examples provided are also based in Japan. It would be more appealing if one example focused on success story in Japan while the other example explained inefficiency in a different region.

Implementation and Practical Points

According to Mantel, Meredith, Shafer and Sutton (2010), lean production has gained massive popularity in operations management and many firms have embraced it. When implementing this concept, there are practical factors that should be taken into consideration. The first one is that the process of replacing human resource with machine is not a guarantee that there will be a success. Emphasis must be laid on efficiency and cost reduction. The management must also try to involve all the stakeholders when planning to implement the concept. This approach, Black (2008) advises, will help in reducing resistance.


Black, J. R. (2008). Lean production: Implementing a world-class system. New York: Industrial Press.

Dennis, P. (2007). Lean production simplified: A plain language guide to the world’s most powerful production system. New York: Productivity Press.

Johnston, R., Clark, G., & Shulver, M. (2012). Service Operations Management: Improving Service Delivery. Upper Saddle River: Prentice Hall.

Mantel, S., Meredith, J., Shafer, J., & Sutton, M. (2010). Operations Management in Practice. Hoboken: Wiley

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"Lean Production in a Japanese Perspective." IvyPanda, 4 July 2020, ivypanda.com/essays/lean-production-in-a-japanese-perspective/.

1. IvyPanda. "Lean Production in a Japanese Perspective." July 4, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/lean-production-in-a-japanese-perspective/.


IvyPanda. "Lean Production in a Japanese Perspective." July 4, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/lean-production-in-a-japanese-perspective/.


IvyPanda. 2020. "Lean Production in a Japanese Perspective." July 4, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/lean-production-in-a-japanese-perspective/.


IvyPanda. (2020) 'Lean Production in a Japanese Perspective'. 4 July.

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