Sustaining New Coordination Methods: The Case of World Class Manufacturing

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Rob Kling Center for Social Informatics
A popular philosophy of manufacturing reform commonly referred to as "World Class Manufacturing", calls for the adoption of organizational practices that significantly alter coordination within and between manufacturing firms. These practices are intended to enable continuous improvement, speed up response time, improve product quality, and create closer relationships with customers and suppliers. The adoption of coordination methods advocated by World Class Manufacturing, such as cross-functional teams and vendor certification, has been uneven. This is not surprising, considering the diversity of technical and institutional demands faced by different manufacturing firms, and even by different groups within firms. But the literature on World Class Manufacturing coordination reforms has yet to describe the key contextual factors and processes which make these methods more or less sustainable for different organizations, continuing to prescribe the same solutions to every firm regardless of their situation or history. In this study, we turn to organizational theory to help explain the sustainability or abandonment of different World Class Manufacturing coordination methods. Using a case study of three different coordination reforms in a Southern California aerospace firm, we compared the explanatory power of two popular theoretical perspectives on organizational coordination and action -- one rational perspective (structural contingency theory) and one natural perspective (institutional theory). One of the abandoned coordination reforms depended upon a complex computerized information system. Our study indicates that the use of organizational theories adds substantially to our explanation and understanding of the practical barriers faced by World Class Manufacturing coordination practices. Since few of these coordination innovations are justified using traditional techniques, it is especially important to have rich conceptual tools for thinking through exactly which coordination innovations will be sustainable in particular manufacturing organizations. The combination of rational and natural systems models accounts for both the technical and the (often neglected) institutional dimensions of the manufacturing environment.
social informatics, World Class Manufacturing, coordination, organizational theory, rational model, natural systems, Structural Contingency Theory, Institutional Theory, WCD, manufacturing
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