Lean and White-Collar Work: Towards New Forms of Industrialisation of Knowledge Work and Office Jobs?

  • Tobias Kaempf ISF Muenchen
Keywords: Agile methods, industrialisation, knowledge work, lean production, new production models, white-collar work, lean


After revolutionising manufacturing in the 1980s, the ideas of lean production are becoming increasingly significant for today’s white-collar work. Drawing on extensive empirical fieldwork, this article shows the fundamental changes in knowledge and office work as a result of new lean concepts. Two case studies are compared: the implementation of lean in the administration of a traditional industrial company and the reorganisation of software development by combining lean with Agile methods in a leading IT company. Lean is becoming a pioneer for new forms of industrialisation of white-collar work. The spectrum extends from a ‘factory approach’ with rigid work flows in administration to new development models in knowledge-intensive areas that go well beyond Tayloristic approaches. Based on the possibilities of digitisation, lean opens up new ways for the valorisation of knowledge work in modern capitalism, best described with the Marxian notion of ‘real subsumption’ of labour under capital.