The Value of Lean in the Service Sector: A Critique of Theory & Practice

David Arfmann, Federico Topolansky

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This paper explores the rationale and value of applying lean principles to service sector organizations. The
objective of the paper is twofold. First, it challenges the foundations of lean service and identifies several flaws in
this production practice. Second, it aims to critically analyze the value of the customer pull concept in service
systems. Thirteen databases and search engines were used to obtain literature, and the search was limited to
studies published in English since 2005. More than 700 papers were identified through several loops of keywords
adjustment and abstract screening to ensure quality and relevance. The review suggests that benefits of lean
service transformation are at least doubtful. The review also indicates that lean service transformation is not able
to address service operations challenges appropriately. The reason lies in its origins and specific characteristics.
Existing research on lean services have failed to criticize lean principles when applied to the service sector. This
review will partially fill this gap in the literature. The paper also highlights several opportunities for further
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)18-24
Number of pages7
JournalInternational Journal of Business and Social Science
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 15 Feb 2014
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

International Journal of Business and Social Science (IJBSS) is an open access journal.


  • lean principles
  • lean service
  • critique
  • customer pull


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