Systemic Practice and Action Research

, Volume 26, Issue 2, pp 153–171 | Cite as

Decoding the Japanese Lean Production System According to a Viable Systems Perspective

  • Gandolfo Dominici
  • Federica Palumbo
Original Paper


The increase in the complexity and variability of the business environment, due to constant and rapid changes in markets, calls for more flexible and effective production systems. Of the most valuable production systems, the Japanese lean production system (LPS) is the best known and studied, but is still not the most widely applied with success outside Japan. The reason for the low level of success of lean production outside its native country is the lack of understanding of the strong interactions which hold between enterprises and business systems. In order to fill this gap in our knowledge, we investigate the systemic interactions according to the viable system view. To develop our analysis, we combine the elements of two of the major viable systems theories: the Viable System Model (VSM) of Stafford Beer, and the Viable System Approach (VSA) of Gaetano Golinelli. We combine these two perspectives to create a cohesive framework that combines the internal structural analysis of VSM with the analysis of links to the environmental suprasystems of VSA. In line with this framework, we examine the peculiar aspects of the Japanese LPS in order to find the relevant correspondences between the Japanese LPS and the Viable Systems perspective. We portray the peculiarities of the lean production system, shedding light on its roots in the Japanese business environment (Dominici 2008, 2010), and we show how it has worked as an incubator to create those managerial practices that represent the LPS. We also show how the Japanese kaisha can be effectively represented as a viable system in homeostatic interaction with the Japanese business environment. We conclude with an analysis of the results and summary of the possibilities for further research.


Viable System Model Viable System Approach Lean production system Japanese business environment Just in Time 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Faculty of Economics, S.E.A.F.University of PalermoPalermoItaly
  2. 2.Faculty of Economics, Department of ManagementSapienza University of RomeRomeItaly

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