Exploring the process of management system implementation: a case of Six Sigma

Jeroen De Mast, Bart A. Lameijer, Kevin Linderman, Andrew Van de Ven

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


Purpose: The purpose of this study is to discover the learning mechanisms and temporal dynamics of implementing systems (Six Sigma) as it unfolds over time. Design/methodology/approach: The data come from a European engineering company that was implementing a Six Sigma-based quality management system (QMS) over a seven-year period. The analysis is based on an event-sequence reconstruction of the implementation process as it unfolded over time and discovers four different learning mechanisms that emerged: programmatic, persistent, adaptive and dialectical learning mechanisms. The research follows a process design study, where the authors study how the process unfolds over time. Findings: Much of the literature on implementing management systems suggests that implementation follows a prescribed sequence of “turn-key” steps. However, the findings show that only 40% of all events were driven by prescribed “turn-key” generic practices, while 56% of events required constructing new practices via adaptive and dialectical learning. Moreover, the implementation process did not proceed in a linear programmatic fashion, but instead followed a punctuated equilibrium pattern, which alternated between periods of incremental change and major organizational change. The study also found that implementation required changing many complementary organizational structures and practices that were interdependent with the management system (i.e. Six Sigma). By understanding the implementation process, managers can better assess the time and effort involved, better adapt the system to their situated context and predict critical junctures where implementation could break down. Originality/value: This research complements the few studies that have examined the process of implementing management systems. Most studies examine factors or conditions that result in implementation success (the what of implementing systems), but few examine the process of implementation and the learning that takes place during implementation (the how of implementing systems), which is a complex nonlinear process that involves different modes of learning.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1-24
Number of pages24
JournalInternational Journal of Operations and Production Management
Issue number13
StatePublished - 2021

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Decision Sciences
  • Strategy and Management
  • Management of Technology and Innovation


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