Factors affecting the agility of firms implementing lean manufacturing.
Production methods lie on a continuum from mass production to Lean and or Agile. Agile production represents an innovative supply chain strategy that shows promise in the manufacturing sector. Many South African companies are not yet aware of Agility. Currently, many manufacturers are implementing Lean and JIT principles. However, Lean and JIT may not respond adequately to modern market demands and shortened product lifecycles. The Agile paradigm focuses on speed, flexibility and response: critical factors that enable companies to achieve a higher level of differentiation. The aim of this research was to determine the influence of different levels of Lean implementation on production Agility. This study was an innovative investigation into whether Lean and JIT contribute to, or detract from, Agility in manufacturing. There is little published research on this relationship. The study seeks to contribute to the body of knowledge and to benefit manufacturing companies: particularly those in South Africa. The research was exploratory in nature and consequently a case study approach was used. A non-probability, purposive sampling design was used to select three companies representing different categories on the spectrum of the Lean manufacturing continuum: Company A – beginner, Company B – intermediate and Company C – expert. The research was qualitative in nature. A review of the literature tends to suggest that Lean and JIT restrict Agility by restricting speed, flexibility and response. Contrary to expectations, the findings of the study indicate that Agility tends to increase in companies that have undertaken the Lean journey. The results of the study confirm that Lean contributes to Agility within the manufacturing sector. As Lean levels increase from beginner to expert so too do the levels of speed, flexibility and response (SFR). The conclusion drawn from this study is that Lean is a pre-requisite for Agile and companies may need to implement Lean before considering Agile systems. The results of this study have been used to construct a conceptual framework and road map that may be used by firms wishing to undertake the Agile journey. The strategy has been termed ParaLeagile and it may assist manufacturing companies to make more informed and appropriate decisions, thus boosting the economy.