A Systematic Literature Review on Recent Lean Research: State-of-the-art and Future Directions



Lean management (LM) has attracted the interest of scientists and practitioners since 1990, when Womack et al. (Womack, J.P., Jones, D.T. and Roos, D. (1990). The Machine that Changed the World. New York, NY: Rawson Associates) popularized the Japanese manufacturing approach aimed at eliminating waste to improve operational performance and customer satisfaction. Over the years, the lean concept has evolved becoming a managerial paradigm applicable to different sectors and processes with impressive results. This heterogeneity of implementations and settings makes the recent LM literature diverse and fragmented, and an extensive analysis of the latest contributions on this field is lacking. To address this gap, the authors propose a systematic literature review (SLR) of 240 articles published in 25 peer-reviewed academic journals from January 2003 to December 2015. The purpose is to analyse the recent trends in this area and to provide a framework that organizes lean researched issues into mature, intermediate and nascent, based on their position in the research life cycle. Starting from the gaps that the SLR highlights, the authors suggest conducting lean research in the following directions: (a) grounding lean studies on existing managerial theories; (b) addressing service settings such as banking/finance, public sector and education; (c) exploring the role of national culture through cross-country comparisons; (d) defining and conceptualizing ‘lean-x’ processes; (e) understanding the relationships between lean and safety/environmental issues, and (f) unveiling the effects on social outcomes. Finally, the proposed framework helps scholars find issues not sufficiently explored that require theory-building research (to move from nascent to intermediate) or theory-testing research (to move from intermediate to mature).