Exploring the dark side of Lean: a systematic review of the lean factors that influence social outcomes

Willem Salentijn, Susanne Beijer, Jiju Antony*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to JournalReview articleAcademicpeer-review

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Purpose: Lean has shifted over the years from a set of tools to implement to a human-centric approach concerning both hard and soft factors. However, there is a limited research on these soft factors and how they influence companies performance and social outcomes on the one hand and how they enable the hard factors on the other hand. Taking this as a valuable opportunity, the purpose of this paper is to present the key motivating factors and key gaps in the literature as an agenda for future research. Design/methodology/approach: A systematic methodology to identifying the literature on social outcomes and factors in Lean is presented. Web of Science, EBSCO, Emerald, Science Direct, Google Scholar and the top journals were searched, and 158 papers were identified. Findings: The systematic review helped the authors to identify the evolution, current trends, research gaps and an agenda for future research for exploring social outcomes in Lean and the factors mediating them. These factors are grouped and presented. Practical implications: The implications of this work include understanding for managers and professionals how both soft and hard factors in Lean are related and that for a sustainable implementation, the whole system must be observed. This work could serve as a valuable resource that depending on the execution of Lean, either positive outcomes will emerge or even negative outcomes, referred to as “The Dark Side”. Originality/value: This paper presents an extended survey on the factors in Lean mediating both companies’ performance and social outcomes. The authors also believe that this is possibly the most comprehensive systematic literature review on the topic and will set the foundation for various research avenues based on the key findings of this study.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1469-1483
Number of pages15
JournalTQM Journal
Issue number6
Early online date27 Jan 2021
Publication statusPublished - 28 Oct 2021


  • Continuous improvement
  • Dark side
  • Empowerment
  • Engagement
  • Hard factors
  • Lean
  • Lean management
  • Lean manufacturing
  • Lean production
  • Operational performance
  • Social outcomes
  • Soft factors
  • Systematic literature review


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