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Call for Papers – Special Issue of the Journal of General Management


Lean management in the service economy

‘Lean’ has become a commonplace term in business; indeed so commonplace that it is now timely to revisit the concept, re-evaluate the empirical evidence and consider what further investigation is needed. In recent years, lean processes have spread from their roots in manufacturing into labour-intensive professional service areas such as Further and Higher Education, Public Administration and Healthcare. There has been very little work to date on the appropriateness or the impact of this transfer. Jones and Womack (2009) wrote that the transformation of organisations should very clearly focus upon the three business issues of Purpose, Process and People: Purpose – what customer problems will the enterprise solve to achieve its own purpose of prospering?; Process – how will the organisation assess each major value stream to make sure each step is valuable, capable, available, adequate, flexible, and that all the steps are linked by flow, pull, and levelling?; and People – how can the organisation ensure that every important process has someone responsible for continually evaluating that value stream in terms of business purpose and lean process?

Q) Do we have evidence to demonstrate that the implementation of ‘Lean’ processes in the Education and Public sectors is guided by a clear focus?  

It is our belief that the above approach serves as a broad but clear guide to organisational transformation that simultaneously considers several levels and dimensions of organising.  However, it does not address difficulties that may be encountered in service/professional/ education which are often based on a lack of clarity in understanding ‘purpose’ and ‘process’, in particular.  Papers for this edition may examine how ‘Lean’ is sometimes/often used as a way of masking broader mechanisms of management control in sectors where such control can be extremely difficult (e.g. Worrall, Mather and Seifert, 2010).   Papers may address questions over what is actually meant by ‘Lean’ when even in manufacturing, where the term is very familiar, there is some confusion between the original understanding of the processes involved and BPR, agile management etc

Q) What are the challenges for general managers working cross-functionally in the Service Economy and how do they meet them?

There seems to be an underpinning assumption in the Public and Education sectors that there will always be potential for organisations to become leaner even if this leads to a further degradation of work, overloading of work, and less job involvement (Worrall, Cooper and Mather, 2007).  Research into supply chain management indicates that what may appear very lean may also be dangerously fragile.  Although ‘Lean Management’ has cast a fat shadow over UK organisations, in some areas there are signs that ‘Lean’ has become anorexic.  Managers keen to make savings by eliminating all fat have reached the point where they cannot look critically at their own organisations without the picture becoming distorted; they risk overlooking signs of distress or fragility.  Recent recession has affected the service sector more than previous downturns and has strengthened this risk. For example, severe cuts in higher education budgets lead many academics and administrators to have increasing concerns about quality of provision. Recent discussions have also turned to notions of ‘lean and green’ but this raises questions of whether ‘Lean Management’ can be environmentally sustainable when pushed to extreme cost cutting. 

Q)How can we clearly identify the practical limits to introducing lean processes into an organisation?  Are there limits?

Lean thinking’ in the form of pared-down management structures and decision-making structures potentially has much to offer in building sustainable competitive advantage in the service economy.  For instance, Doman (2011) makes a case for involving undergraduate students in streamlining grading processes and Staats et al. (2011) outline the positive effects of lean management within a software services organisation.  There are also opportunities for academics, consultants and others to make use of lean techniques that rapidly build resilience and crisis preparedness. Limits may arise from the need to build innovation, retain flexibility and good organisational development (OD) practice such as development of a learning organisation focus and employee empowerment. For example Google’s much vaunted practice of allowing employees time to work on their own projects. In practice, there is bound to be a tension between lean thinking and building for the future. How do managers in the service economy resolve this tension?

Q)What are the particular challenges for lean supply chain management?

This Special Issue of the Journal of General Management will specifically examine the impact of Lean processes upon services and the challenges of implementing such approaches in complex environments.  While it is recognised that there have been several recent critiques of TQM, Lean Production and similar management initiatives, this Special Issue aims to address a significant gap in the literature of interest to General Managers. Potential authors might wish to address one of the questions highlighted above or item(s) from the following (non-exhaustive) list:

  • Methodological innovation in lean management research.

  • Case studies on lean global production facilities and implications for general management.

  • Empirical models of lean operations in global manufacturing industries.

  • Service processes for successful lean management.

The Journal of General Management (JGM) has a reputation for high quality scholarly publications that attempt to bridge the gap between the theory and practice of business management. Its founding idea is that the modern manager needs to be more than a narrow technician, but a consummate professional, and a complete human being equipped with a broader vision of the significance of their business. JGM was therefore conceived as a vehicle for research across all fields of administrative science that encourages the cultivation of managerial excellence in the broadest sense.

Instructions to potential authors

Development papers (maximum 1000 words) should be submitted by December 1st 2012 to Mykala Crofts ( or any one of the Special Issue Editors below:

Full Paper deadline (5000 words) March 30, 2013. Papers are to be sent to After screening by the special issue editors, these papers will be double blind reviewed before being accepted for publication.   Final publication is anticipated to be July 2013.

Authors of selected papers will be invited to participate in a one-day ‘Lean Business’ conference on Friday 11th April 2014 (Technocentre, Coventry University).

Special Issue Editors

 Tina Bass
Terrence Brathwaite
Chris Dunn 
Dr Mils Hills
Brenda Hollyoak 
Dr Zulfiqar Khan 
Dr. James Smith 
Dr Danielle Talbot 
Dr Gerry Urwin 
Professor Leslie Worrall


Doman, M. S. (2011), ‘A new lean paradigm in higher education: a case study’, Quality Assurance in Education, Vol. 19, No. 3, pp. 248-262.

Jones, J. P. and Womack D.  T. (2009), ‘What is Lean?’, Lean Enterprise Institute, Retrieved March 18th, 2012, from

Staats, B. R.  Brunner, D. J. and Upton, D. M. (2011), ‘Lean principles, learning, and knowledge work: Evidence from a software services provider’, Journal of Operations Management, 29, 5, pp. 376-390.

Worrall, L. Cooper, C. L. and Mather, K. (2007), ‘Organisational change and its dysfunctional effect on managers in large organisations’, Research companion to the dysfunctional workplace: management challenges and symptoms, Ed. by Langan-Fox, J., Cooper, C. L. and Klimoski, R. London: Edward Elgar.

Worrall, L. Mather, K. and Seifert, R. (2010), ‘Solving the labour problem among professional workers in the UK Public Sector: organisation change and performance management’, Public Organisation Review, Vol. 10, pp.117-137.