Bringing Light to the Dark Side of Lean Construction: A Response to Stuart Green

Gregory A. Howell1 & Glenn Ballard2

1P.E., Director, Lean Construction Institute, Box 1003, Ketchum, ID 83340, 208/726- 9989 Fax 208 726 0699, [email protected]
2Director of Research, Lean Construction Institute, and Lecturer, Construction Engineering and Management Program, Dept. of Civil and Environmental Engineering, University of California at Berkeley, 4536 Fieldbrook Road, Oakland, CA 94619, 510/530-8656, FAX 510/530-2048, [email protected]


Stuart Green proposes that researchers have ignored the “Dark Side” of lean construction, taking for granted it is a good thing. He charges that these academics are ignoring the debate about the transferability of Japanese automobile manufacturing to other settings, and that lean leads to the repression of trade unions and to regressive human resource management. Along the way he attacks Womack and Jones for their evangelical tone, the rhetoric of lean for its similarity with that of business process reengineering and total quality management, and the failure of lean to apply other lessons from organizational thinkers. This paper attempts to sharpen the debate by exposing the false foundations of his argument that the debate hinges on “Whether Japanese Methods are based on nice things like loyalty, empowerment, consensus etc. or whether they are based on nasty things like management-by-stress and exploitation.” We argue that Green misses the key foundations of lean which are drawn from a long history of production management thinking which first attempts to manage the physics of production in the service of higher performance.


Lean construction, critical theory.



Howell, G. A. & Ballard, G. 1999. Bringing Light to the Dark Side of Lean Construction: A Response to Stuart Green, 7th Annual Conference of the International Group for Lean Construction , 33-38.

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