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Lean Transformation in the U.S. Aerospace Industry: Appreciating Interdependent Social and Technical Systems. February 2002. Cutcher-Gershenfeld

Lean practices and principles build on a half-century of successive initiatives aimed at transforming social and technical systems in organizations. While they are seen as central to the revitalization of the U.S. aerospace industry, there is great variation in the degree to which lean initiatives emphasize just technical/manufacturing systems versus additional social and enterprise dimensions. Based on a national random sample survey of 362 U.S. aerospace facilities, this paper examines factors that account for the incidence of lean practices and the impact on outcomes relevant to key stakeholders. While structural factors such as industry sector, facility size and others have limited explanatory power, two process factors organizational learning and the value placed on intellectual capital do account for the increased presence of lean practices. In examining employment outcomes, facilities higher just on the technical/manufacturing aspects of lean have a significant and negative impact on job growth, while facilities higher around the social systems associated with lean have significant and positive employment growth. This finding is consistent with the views of critics of the more narrow technical, manufacturing-oriented approaches to lean as a threat to employment and it validate proponents of a broader value-creating approach to lean as a way of growing the enterprise. Enterprise dimensions of lean (including both social and technical aspects of lean) have a positive impact on productivity. Examining outcomes relevant to multiple stakeholders and various factor inputs produces a more complete understanding of the limitations and potential for lean transformation in the aerospace industry.

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The Impact of Instability on Complex Social and Technical Systems. April 2002. Cutcher-Gershenfeld and Rebentish.

Instability is a pervasive phenomenon that has deep implications for virtually all complex social and technical systems. In engineering, the identification and mitigation of various types of technical instabilities is a well developed practice. This is a key focus, for example, of engineers concerned about the prevention of potentially destabilizing vibration in the frame of an aircraft or the mitigation of sources of technical instability in the operation of a nuclear reactor. However, the nature of instability in complex social and technical systems is relatively unstudied and not well understood. This is unfortunate because instability can have profound effects on the performance of those systems as well as their ability to improve their performance over time. In this paper, we present a conceptual framework for understanding instability in socio-technical systems. To illustrate what we mean by instability in the context of complex engineering systems, we will draw on data from the aerospace industry. In particular, we use two data sets, to trace the impacts of various sources of instability. One data set centers on instability and its impact on aerospace programs, while the other centers on instability and its impact on aerospace production and design facilities.

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