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The Learning Factory

Aims & objectives

This study ran from April 1999 to March 2001 and hence was completed just as Nick Oliver took up his position with the CBR. This project is the fourth in a series of studies, the first of which was conducted in 1992, with replications and extensions in 1994, 1995 and 1996. The series has comprised intense study of over 100 manufacturing plants in nine countries (China, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Spain, the UK and the US). In each case, plant-level measures of manufacturing performance (labour productivity, defect rates, etc.) have been taken and cross referenced with measures of manufacturing practice and plant characteristics in order to better understand the key factors that distinguish high performing plants from their less highly performing counterparts. More specifically, these studies set out to test the proposition that so-called lean production methods are associated with superior manufacturing performance. 26 of the plants in the 1999-2001 study had taken part in the 1994 study, representing a unique opportunity to map change over time. Somewhat ironically given Japan's financial difficulties, the Japanese plants showed noticeably greater improvement in performance than their Western counterparts; labour productivity in the Japanese plants improved by an average of 20 per cent over the period; in US plants labour productivity was static, whilst the UK plants registered a fall in labour productivity of 13 per cent.

Results & dissemination

The results revealed substantial differences between Japan and the UK (generally in favour of Japan), based on measures such as development lead times and the time taken for manufacturing performance to settle to normal levels following new product launch. The Japanese plants showed noticeably greater improvement in performance than their Western counterparts; labour productivity in the Japanese plants improved by an average of 20 per cent over the period; in US plants labour productivity was static, whilst the UK plants registered a fall in labour productivity of 13 per cent. During 2003, CBR funding supported dissemination of these findings.

Working papers

Barton, H., Delbridge, R., and Oliver, N.(2002) Lean Production and Manufacturing Performance Improvement in Japan, the UK and US 1994-2001. Centre for Business Research Working Paper 232, June.

Project leaders

Nick Oliver
Rick Delbridge

Project status

Completed