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Hu, Qing
Languages: English
Types: Doctoral thesis
Subjects: HD28, H1, HD
ABSTRACT:\ud This thesis critiques the consultant-client relationship in Chinese SMEs’ lean improvement projects. SMEs, which are crucial to China’s economy, encounter many challenges during their development. Management practices, such as lean, have been developed to improve organisational performance. In their application to SMEs, resource constraints mean that business assistance from external agencies, such as management consultants, is required.\ud Drawing on multiple theoretical lenses, including organisational learning, institutional theory and contingency theory, a research framework is established. This framework is employed to identify three research themes: organisations’ abandonment of existing practices; organisations’ learning of lean practices; and the consultant - SME client relationship during lean improvement projects. As well as the established consultants’ role, “consultants as external advisors”, a new role, “consultants in residence”, is identified. These two roles are studied through the three research themes.\ud This thesis employs a multiple-case study approach. Consultancy-involved lean projects undertaken in five Chinese SMEs are investigated using data collection methods of semi-structured interviews, direct observation and documentation. Both within- and cross-case analyses are applied.\ud The main contributions of this thesis are fourfold. First, it sets out the changing nature of the consultant - SME client relationship throughout the projects by comparing and contrasting the consultants’ and clients’ perspectives. Second, a framework which defines the impact of SME structural characteristics on the consultant-client relationship is developed. Thirdly, two organisational learning frameworks in relation to the two consultants’ roles are established. Furthermore, the approach employed to deinstitutionalise organisations’ existing practices is compared between the two consultants’ roles.\ud In the conclusion, the implications of this research for academia, practitioners and policy makers are discussed. A checklist which can aid SME managers in employing consultancy services is proposed and areas for future research are identified.
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    • 1.1 Chapter Introduction...........................................................................................1
    • 1.2 Background to this research ...............................................................................1
    • 1.4 Research aim, framework and questions ...........................................................6
    • 1.5 Structure of thesis ..............................................................................................12
    • CHAPTER 2 LITERATURE REVIEW - PART ONE .....................17
    • 2.1 Chapter introduction .........................................................................................17
    • 2.2 Management consultancy ..................................................................................18 2.2.1 The definition of management consultancy ..................................................18 2.2.2 The meaning of the client ..............................................................................22 2.2.3 The consultant-client relationship .................................................................23 2.2.4 Management consultancy in SMEs ...............................................................30 2.2.5 Summary .......................................................................................................33
    • 2.3 Chinese SMEs .....................................................................................................35 2.3.1 The definition of Chinese SMEs ...................................................................35 2.3.2 The development of Chinese SMEs ..............................................................38 2.3.3 The characteristics of Chinese SMEs ............................................................44 2.3.4 Previous research...........................................................................................48 2.3.5 Summary .......................................................................................................49
    • 2.4 Lean Production .................................................................................................51 2.4.1 The definition of Lean Production ................................................................53 2.4.2 Lean implementation .....................................................................................55 2.4.3 Lean implementation in SMEs ......................................................................60 2.4.4 Summary .......................................................................................................62
    • 3.1 Chapter introduction .........................................................................................67
    • 3.2 Organisational learning.....................................................................................69 3.2.1 The definition of organisational learning ......................................................69 3.2.2 Levels and processes of organisational learning ...........................................72 3.2.3 Organisational learning and management consultancy .................................77 3.2.4 Types of learning...........................................................................................81 3.2.5 Summary - organisational learning and management consultancy ..............83
    • 3.3 Institutional theory ............................................................................................86 3.3.1 Institutional isomorphism..............................................................................88 3.3.2 Deinstitutionalisation.....................................................................................90 3.3.3 Summary - institutional theory and management consultancy.....................94
    • 3.4 Contingency theory ............................................................................................97 3.4.1 Summary - contingency theory and management consultancy ..................103
    • 3.5 Conclusion and relevance to the thesis...........................................................106
    • 4.5 Research strategy and design..........................................................................121 4.5.1 The choice of a case study methodology.....................................................121 4.5.2 Case study plan and design .........................................................................125 4.5.3 Data collection methods ..............................................................................132 4.5.4 Application of data collection methods.......................................................135 4.5.5 Research ethics ............................................................................................145 4.5.6 Data analysis................................................................................................147 4.5.7 Validity and reliability of case study research ............................................152
    • 4.6 Conclusion and relevance to the thesis...........................................................155
    • 5.3 Results from the Pilot Study............................................................................159 5.3.1 The initial contact stage...............................................................................160 5.3.2 The preparation stage ..................................................................................169 5.3.3 The (early) implementation stage................................................................176
    • 5.3 Summary of results ..........................................................................................191
    • 5.4 Reflection - Methodological Issues and Counter Measures .........................201
    • 5.5 Conclusion and relevance to the thesis...........................................................203
    • 6.1 Chapter Introduction.......................................................................................205
    • 6.2 Results from the main case studies .................................................................206 6.2.1 The initial contact stage...............................................................................206 6.2.2 The preparation stage ..................................................................................218 6.2.3 The implementation stage............................................................................231 6.2.4 The results assessment stage .......................................................................272
    • 6.3 Conclusion and relevance to the thesis...........................................................283
    • 7.1 Chapter Introduction.......................................................................................285
    • 7.2 The consultant-client relationship in Chinese SMEs ....................................286 7.2.1 The changes of the consultant-client relationship .......................................286 7.2.2 The impact of SME structural characteristics on the consultant-client relationship ...........................................................................................................297
    • 7.3 Organisations' abandonment of their existing practices ..............................303 7.3.1 The drivers for client organisations to depart from status quo....................303 7.3.2 The roles of consultants in organisations' abandonment of their existing practices................................................................................................................304
    • 7.4 Organisations' learning of lean practices ......................................................309 7.4.1 The drivers for organisations to adopt lean practices ..................................309 7.4.2 Learning of lean practices in client organisations .......................................310
    • 7.5 Conclusion and relevance to the thesis...........................................................324
    • CHAPTER 8 CONCLUSION ............................................................326
    • 8.1 Chapter Introduction.......................................................................................326
    • 8.2 Answers to the research questions..................................................................327
    • 8.3 Academic contributions ...................................................................................336 8.3.1 Contributions to theory................................................................................337 8.3.2 Research methodology ................................................................................342 8.3.3 Implications for academia - contributions to the applied concepts .............343
    • 8.4 Practical implications ......................................................................................344
    • 8.6 Areas for future research ................................................................................351
    • Figure 1.1 The research framework to study the consultant-client relationship in Chinese SMEs' lean improvement projects.......................................7
    • Figure 1.2 Research framework to study the consultant-client relationship in Chinese SMEs' lean improvement projects - research question 1......8
    • Figure 1.3 Research framework to study the consultant-client relationship in Chinese SMEs' lean improvement projects - research question 2......9
    • Figure 1.4 Research framework to study the consultant-client relationship in Chinese SMEs' lean improvement projects - research question 3....10
    • Figure 1.5 Research framework to study the consultant-client relationship in Chinese SMEs' lean improvement projects - research question 4....11
    • Figure 1.6 Structure of this thesis...........................................................................12
    • Figure 2.1 The number of SMEs from 2005 to 2012*...........................................41
    • Figure 2.2 The preliminary research framework to study the consultant-client relationship in Chinese SMEs' lean improvement projects ...............65
    • Figure 3.1 An organisational learning framework................................................74
    • Figure 3.2 The research framework to study the consultant-client relationship in Chinese SMEs' lean improvement projects...................................108
    • Figure 4.1 The structure of a case e-folder ..........................................................148
    • Figure 5.1 The scope of the pilot case study ........................................................159
    • Figure 5.2 Internal and external drivers for Autoparts Ltd to adopt lean practice ..................................................................................................161
    • Figure 5.3 A summary of the preliminary results from the pilot case study....192
    • Figure 5.4 The impact of SME structural characteristics on the consultantclient relationship-results, from the pilot study................................194
    • Figure 5.5 Building a shared understanding of lean practices between the consultants and clients .........................................................................198
    • Figure 6.1 The scope of the main case studies .....................................................205
    • Figure 6.2 A summary of the implementation stage ...........................................232
    • Figure 6.3 The process of changing rules, policies and procedures ..................253
    • Figure 7.1 The research framework to study the consultant-client relationship in Chinese SMEs' lean improvement projects...................................285
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