Perspectives on Manufacturing Development - Discontinuous Change and Continuous Improvement
Doktorsavhandling, 1996

The dissertation deals with the management of planned change and development efforts in manufacturing environments. Two models for improving and sustaining operational performance (technical, economic and social) are presented: the discontinuous change model and the continuous improvement model. Six papers form the foundation for the thesis: two literature reviews and four empirical studies, of which two are case studies and two are survey-based investigations. Taken together, the studies provide an integrated picture of manufacturing development efforts, although the studies have focused on different aspects in each of the development models. It is shown that the often-cited concept of balancing technological, organisational and human aspects in manufacturing redesign projects must to be modified. Rather than striving for an 'absolute and simultaneous' balance, project management should be concerned with rebalancing the focus of a project. As the potential of the "current" problem/solution area diminishes, the design of the development effort must facilitate a search for additional problem definitions, as well as solutions, among other aspects. This rebalance is more likely in projects where human and organisational factors are upgraded via management's commitment to a policy of emphasising the importance of employee behaviour for manufacturing performance. The Continuous Improvement (CI) model is distinguished from discontinuous development efforts through its change logic (inductive learning vs. procedural planning), and through its relation to the ordinary work context (integrated vs. parallel). It is suggested that combining the procedural planning with the inductive learning logic requires an organisational form capable of integrating the development effort with the regular line organisation. The multifunctional work group is submitted as one such organisational form which should be taken into consideration when evaluating the pros and cons of team-based organisations. The survey-based observations of CI practices in Sweden revealed an indirect employee-involvement CI profile which is distinctly different from the Japanese kaizen original. The incidence of fewer detailed improvement activities in the Swedish CI experience is explained by the fact that CI is managed consciously as an integral part of a team-based organisation. In fact, this feature is essential if the necessary behaviour and motivation for a sustained CI process (where improvement is "part of the ordinary work") are to evolve. In addition, the enlargement of the role of department managers and functional specialists in order to support the CI process, and the upgrading of the importance of first-line managers is also essential for this development. It is further suggested that the multifunctional work group is a prime example of how an organisational design can be functionally equivalent to a quite different original (kaizen), provided it is adapted to its organisational context in terms of labour market, educational levels, industrial relations, incentive systems and motivational structure of the work itself.

change theory


Continuous Improvement

large-scale renewal



multifunctional work groups

discontinuous change


manufacturing development


Anders Berger

Chalmers, Institutionen för arbetsorganisation


Produktionsteknik, arbetsvetenskap och ergonomi