Lean Service Tools for the Positive Sustainable Growth – A Critical Literature Review

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Lean Service Tools for the Positive Sustainable Growth – A Critical Literature Review

  1. M. Vadivel 1, A. H. Sequeira 2

    1 Assistant Professor, Vellore Institute of Technology Chennai, Business School, Chennai 600127, India.

    2 Professor, National Institute of Technology Karnataka, School of Management, Surathkal 575025, India.

    Abstract:- The research paper aims to study the Systematic Literature Review (SLR) on how lean systems implemented in service industries and extended to the sustainability model. This study explores SLR considering 137 papers published from 2002 to 2019 into account and focusing on the significance of sustainable development of a conceptual model to explore the research further. This literature review triggered the sustainability development in service sectors such as healthcare, education, public sector, banking, and financial services, IT/ITES, telecom services, hotel, and product services. The limitation of this work excluded lean related studies applied in manufacturing sectors and books during the period of study. Specific features discussed on implications of lean applied in service industries and its importance of sustainability, which is scant in the literature. Hence, both academicians and practitioners can be beneficiary from the SLR point of view.

    Keywords:- Lean service, Service industries, Sustainable growth, Systematic literature review


      Today across the globe, all the organizations facing the intricate problems of environmental and social sustainability (McCarty et al., 2011). Service operations are often well known around the globe. Suppliers, service organizations, and customers link it through service, information sometimes capital flows. Companies all over the world are trying to figure out how to manage their environmental and social performance better. Hence, enhancing sustainability performance and decreasing environmental problems will ensure business in an imperative form. Service organizations responsible for the environmental and sustainability of their customers. For instance, hospitals generate a lot of healthcare waste, and there are issues with storage, transportation, and disposal of that waste. (Unger, Campion, Bilec, & Landis, 2016). Mazzocato et al. (2010) implemented lean in the healthcare sector. The results showed that staff empowerment and continuous improvement in operations prominent to sustainable outcomes. Hence, lean is sustainable in the long term, which is more effective than other approaches in the healthcare department.

      In India, the postal department utilizes abundant labour availability for their postal services. Postal service industries make environmental pollution by emitting gas through their vehicle transportation. In the sealing section, employees knowingly or unknowingly inhale the smoke during the dispatched delivery article sealing bags (Ramachandiran.K, 2011). It is a hazard that can cause cancer after a particular period. The postal department has to give prime importance to address this problem and improve the social protection of human well-being through their sustainability. By observing lean performers, Niepce and Molleman (1998) discovered correlations between lean and socio-technical architecture. Venkat and Wakeland (2006) investigated the lean supply chains using CO2 gas emissions as a key performance indicator to measure environmental performance. Leite et al. (2015) suggested that when a lean system implemented correctly in service industries, a lot of benefits can get it from the organization in terms of operational and financial performance. The word sustainable development has attained significant importance in current periods, which will impact our life and society. Hence, organizations have recognized sustainability as a competitive advantage.

      Higher education institutes can improve sustainability and reduce environmental problems through assignment submission and academic files, and it must be in digital form. The motto of the education institutes goes by save the environment; save trees concepts. Comm & Mathaisel, 2005 criticized that there is no school has awarded as a sustainable practice. Hence the articles, as mentioned earlier, were explained lean applied in service industries and the importance of sustainability issues. Research Questions (RQs) formulated to address these issues,

      1. Under which conditions lean service articles classified?

      2. What is the significance of the sustainability model in service industries?

      3. What are the research gaps and future scope of this review paper?

      The paper arranged as follows. Section 2 deals with methodology; Section 3 explains a descriptive analysis of SLR; Section 4 describes the importance of sustainable development and model for this research; the section 5 concludes with limitations and future research directions.

        1. Basic terminology

          The book "The computer that changed the world" by Womack and Jones (1990) popularised the lean idea. First and foremost, manufacturing companies all over the world have gradually introduced Lean Manufacturing (LM). The advantage of LM produces more outputs with less input, such as space, material, human effort, and time. It requires fewer inventories on hand to provide the quality of variety products (Womack, J.P, Jones D.T. 1990). In several industries, especially automotive manufacturers and their suppliers, LM techniques aided in the production volume. In the lean definitions, eight forms of wastes

          known as TIMWOODS (transport, inventory, motion, waiting, over-processing, overproduction, defects, and underutilization of resources).

          These wastes were something that customers do not wish to pay known as non-value added activities. Hunter (2002) showed that by introducing the LM, not only does it require less human effort, but it also increases productivity while reducing inventory. According to lvarez et al. (2008), value stream mapping can easily define waste and areas in need of improvement, and the card system (Kanban) can help reduce inefficiencies. In the United States, Zhou (2012) performed an empirical analysis on SMEs. According to the findings, the majority of businesses are aware of the lean model and its values. The majority of businesses save money by implementing quality enhancement, reducing waste, and improving the overall plant/facility layout. Slowly, LM concepts moved to service industries and implemented successfully in service operations. Progressively, lean concepts implemented in healthcare, education, public services, hotel, financial and IT industries, etc. and stimulating developments started from 2005. The rise of environmental and sustainability, the USAs Environmental Protection Agency (EPA, 2003) defined lean as Produce high-quality goods at a low cost, with the shortest lead time possible, and with constant waste reduction while putting people and the environment first.

          Meanwhile, Robin Roy et al. (2000) highlights the significance of lean sustainable product-service systems. The sustainable development started in 1972 at the UN Conference on Human Environment held in Stockholm (Rogers et al., 2008). In service sectors, sustainability aims to improve the service operations in higher customer satisfaction (example: patient safety in hospitals) and profits with minimization environmental impacts, use the resources and energy optimally. The three scopes of sustainability, as described by Dyllick and Hockerts (2002), are business case (economic), natural case (environmental), and societal case (social). The primay outline of this paper is how sustainability helps in service industries while considering the goals of all three dimensions in service operations.


      The research aims to analyse the suitable articles for the scope of sustainable development in service industries, which is scant in literature. A literature review is a logical method to formulate model in any developing field (Easterby-Smith et al., 2002). The top journal articles considered from the period of 2002 to 2019. The reason for selecting 2002 is lean manufacturing concepts widely adopted in service industries, and the argument started on sustainability during this period. We have used keywords such as lean service, lean applied in service industries, lean implemented in service, sustainability, sustainable service, lean sustainable service. Refer Figure 1 SLR process of literature review flowchart.

      Research objectives

          • To classify the issues examined in the recent lean system applied in service industries.

          • To provide suggestion for future research in lean sustainability for service industries.

            Definition of literature boundaries

          • Broad observation of lean service for various contents (For example. Healthcare, IT/ITES, Finance, Public Sectors, Hotel etc.)

          • Inclusion of Case, Review, Theory, Model, Survey of LS articles.

            Setting of inclusion criteria:

          • Cover period: January 2002 Dec. 2019 (17 years)

          • Search term: Keyword << lean service >> in << Article title, Abstract, Keywords >>

          • Search boundaries: Top 137 academic journals applied lean in-service industries, Lean service practitioners journals.

      Applying the exclusion criteria:

      • No grey literature (Books, Book chapters, Dissertations, Abstract and Working papers).

      • Articles not covering with lean manufacturing or lean tool applied in manufacturing industries.

      Figure 1. A summary of SLR process

      The Boolean operators (AND and OR) has been used to find the relevant titles. All 137 selected papers analysed concisely to ensure that articles were significant to our review. An Excel database was created to classify the articles according to their inter- relationships.


        1. Selection of articles and time zone

          137 papers considered from 2002 to April 2019 as shown in Figure 2 in a year wise distribution. Figure 3 shows papers becoming greater in size published over the period of time. More than 52% of the papers were published in JCLP, IJLSS, and POM journals. The JCLP literature review papers played a major role as it contributes 6.56%. Interestingly, from 2013 to 2016 greener management related articles were published in reputed journals such as JCLP (9), IJLSS (3), PP&C (4).

          Table 1. Distribution of publications as per journals names


          Journals name



          Anesthesiology Clinics



          Annals of Emergency Medicine






          Benchmarking: An International Journal



          Cardiovascular Revascularization Medicine



          CIRP Journal of Manufacturing Science and Technology



          Clinical Governance: An International Journal



          Computers in Industry



          Computers & Industrial Engineering



          Empirical Software Engineering



          European Journal of Marketing



          European Journal of Operational Research



          IBM Center for The Business of Goverment



          ICMA Public Management Magazine



          IFAC-Papers on Line



          IFAC Proceedings



          Industrial Management & Data Systems



          International Conference on Technology and Business Management



          International Journal of Basic & Applied Sciences



          International journal of Business Excellence



          International journal of Business information systems



          International Journal of Business and Social Science



          International Journal of Computational Intelligence Systems


          International Journal of Health Care Quality Assurance



          International Journal of Information Management



          International Journal of Lean Six Sigma



          International Journal of Operations & Production Management



          International Journal of Productivity and Performance Management



          International Journal of Production Economics



          International Journal of Production Research



          International Journal of Quality & Reliability Management



          International Journal of Quality and Service Sciences



          International Journal of Scientific and Research Publications



          International Journal Services Technology and Management



          International Journal of Six Sigma and Competitive Advantage



          International journal of Supply Chain Management



          IOP Conference Series: Materials Science and Engineering



          Journal of Cleaner Production



          Journal of the merican College of Radiology



          journal of Engineering manufacture



          Journal of Health Organization and Management



          Journal of Information and Knowledge Systems



          Journal of Manufacturing Systems



          Journal of Manufacturing Technology Management



          Journal of Organizational Excellence



          Journal of Operations Management



          Journal of Pediatric Surgery



          Journal of Psychosomatic Research



          Journal of Transport Geography



          Leadership in Health Services



          Marine Policy



          Neural Computation & Applications



          Perioperative Care and Operating Room Management






          Production Planning & Control



          Production Planning & Control the Management of Operations



          Procedia Engineering



          Procedia Computer Science



          Procedia CIRP



          Procedia Manufacturing



          Procedia – Social and Behavioral Sciences



          Public Management Review



          Quality Assurance in Education






          SAIIE25 Proceedings



          Supply Chain Management: An International Journal



          The Journal of Behavioral Health Services & Research



          The British Accounting Review



          The Online Journal of McKinsey & Co



          The International Journal of Human Resource Management



          Total Quality Management & Business Excellence



          Tourism Management



          Tropical Medicine and Health



          Transformations in business & economics



          The Surgeon






          The TQM journal



          TQM and Business excellence



          International Journal of Business and Commerce



          International journal of System Assurance and Engineering Management










          2002 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016 2017 2018 2019

          Year of Publication

          Number of Articles

          Figure 2. Across the time period distribution of publications

        2. Articles classifications

      The articles arranged into five categories, namely theoretical or conceptual, case study, surveys, modelling, and literature review. Further, for clear understanding to readers, Fifty four papers presented in empirical research. Twelve articles were theoretical or conceptual. Some journals do not come under case papers, and theoretical papers such as survey accounts for 13 journals and literature review has 24 papers. Finally, the conceptual models' articles are 34, which is the intermediate link between the theoretical and case papers has considered. Figure 3 shows the research methodology applied in this SLR. The Venn diagram describes the distribution of papers among these five research methodologies.

      Table 2. Summary of research methodogies applied

      Research methodology

      No.of papers

      Case study (C)


      Model (M)


      Review (R)


      Survey (S)


      Theory (T)


      8 41


      22 R

      T 2 C

      1 10 1

      1 M 4 S 9


      Figure 3. Distribution papers according to the rearch methodologies employed

        1. Geographical contributions

          Table 3 shows the details about the geographical regions selected for lean service and sustainability development articles. Developed countries made valuable contributions to their research in lean service and sustainability, almost 70% of contribution leading countries such as the USA, UK, Sweden, Spain, and Australia. Developing countries contributed 30% emerging countries such as India, Malaysia, Turkey, and Srilanka are in a nascent stage. Underdeveloped countries like Ethiopia (0.08%). Developed countries have to encourage the importance of incorporating lean service and sustainability principles to underdeveloped countries. Developing countries has to improve their social-economic feature through implementing sustainability principles.

          Developing countries










          Republic of Serbia














          South africa






          Under developed countries




          Table 3. Distribution of countries publications (Developed,Developing and Under developed countries

          Developed countries




























          Soothe Arabia


          New Zealand














          SLR spread

          Journals Demography Research methodology Type of Industries


          Year of Publications

          Country wise


          Developed Countries





          Developing Countries



          Under-Developed Countries




          Public sector





          Figure 4. Lean service – literature classification

        2. SLR spread

          From the Figure 5 show that the most of the articles were related to healthcare, followed by IT/ITES and other service sectors. The dominance of the health sector initially implemented the lean concepts in the year 2009 in the UK and later combined with sustainability to identify and remove the hospital wastes. Then, IT and ITES sectors looking for an improved process, eliminate wastes, reducing the documentation work (paperwork) to measure with CMMI level, and SCROM compliance certificates. From the SLR, more force has been given to hospital to develop sustainability in their operations in terms of patient safety and care.












          Figure 5. Distribution of research by industrial sector

        3. Development of sustainable development

      The articles have five categories of sustainable development. The five types are (1) economy (2) social (3) environmental (4) sustainable (5) others. Most of the articles (82) were dealing with economic issues. The economy category has the majority of the publications, whereas remaining groups need more attention to the lean service practitioners and academicians the sustainability based on three pillars (Economic, Environmental, and Social). If one's support is fragile, then the whole system is not stable. Rightly Gladwin et al. (1995) mentioned that, if any organization wants to achieve sustainability these three dimensions must be satisfied.













      economy social sustainable environmental others




      Figure 6. Distribution of articles based on sustainability


      After carefully analysing the SLR, we have portrait the research gaps in present lean system conceptual and empirical world in the existing state of knowledge.

      Operational definition

      Measurement variable

      Manufacturing Industries

      Lean Manufacturing System (LMS)

      Empirical world

      Conceptual world

      Empirical world

      Conceptual world

      Service Industries

      Lean Service System (LSS)

      Operational definition

      Measurement variable

      Sustainability development

      Strong linkages in existing literature

      Weak (emerging) linkages in existing literature

      Figure 7 Research scope for future sustainable model from the existing literature

        1. Towards a sustainable development model

          Both sustainability and lean service background the review conducted. Then, we try to conceptualize the model in three parts as follows:

          • Triggers for lean sustainability in service industries

          • Lean sustainability barriers and performance for adoption

          • Lean sustainable service

      4.1.1 Triggers for lean sustainability in service industries

      The triggers for the field and related activities were identified by the careful analysis articles and it was highlighted in Figure 8. The first point is to apply lean concepts or techniques in the service sector based on their expectations. Then, organisation has to evaluate their barriers or critical success factors through survey or suitable methods. Third point any organisation needs to integrate the sustainability principle along with lean system. A Service industry has to perform their sustainability activities through standard guidelines given by environmental (ISO 14001) and social standards (SA 8000).

      Guidelines for deployment

      Service organizations

      Lean Practices

      Economy Environment


      Service evaluation for barriers and critical success factors

      Need to integrate sustainability with lean service

      Figure 8. Motivations for lean sustainability in service industries

      4.1. 2 Lean service barriers and performance

      • Generalizing model

      • Eco efficiency service (i.e.) lean green service, lean sustainable service

      • Performance metrics of lean service

      • Employees


      • Learning environments

      • Standard models

      • Integrate with

        appropriate tools

      • Need clear guidelines

      • Workers and managers commitment

      • Learning environments

      Three aspects mentioned as barriers for implementing sustainability in service sectors such as higher costs, the complexity of the service, and lack of coordination. Before incorporating sustainability, the lean system has to be appropriately aligned with standard models, integrate with appropriate tools, need clear guidelines, worker and managers commitment, learning environments in the service organizations.

      Barriers and Success factors

      Lean Practices

      Service industries

      Figure 9. Lean sustainability barriers and success factors in service industries

      4.1.3 Lean Service for sustainability

      Sustainability is the term improved economic, social, and environmental standards. This paper has an extensive configuration of the triple ottom line of the framework with sustainability principles. The primary goal of this paper is to create a long-term framework model for service industries while also highlighting the market's competitive strategy.

      Impacts and requirements as per the future demand

      Lean Practices

      Service industries

      Sustainable Service

      • Increase relationship starting

        from suppliers to customers

      • Open culture

      • Sustainable development (lean and green)


      Figure 10. Lean sustainability for service industries


This paper highlights the SLR of lean applied in different service industries starting from January 2002 and ending to April 2019 in 137 top academic journals. First, this research provides recent patterns in LS literature – classifying research context, country wise. Second, we included conceptual, case study, theory, review, survey articles, to analyse different features and activities in lean service field. Third, we have depicted a clear and rigors lean sustainability model for service industries. Fourth, we have shown the importance of lean sustainability barriers and critical success factors while implementing in service industries. The limitation of this work we have excluded lean related studies and books and consideration of period study. The implication of this paper has a complete alignment with the triple bottom line framework of sustainability principles. In future scope, academicians and practitioners may apply this model to test empirically to check robustness & sustainability in different service industries.


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