Matthias is interested in how organisations generate and sustain process improvement practices. His research focuses on the evolution and adaption of process improvement methodologies as they are being applied across manufacturing, service, back-office and public sector contexts.
He has written extensively on the history, evolution and adaption of lean production in automotive manufacturing, distribution and healthcare. Together with John Bicheno he is co-author of “The Lean Toolbox”, a practitioner guide to lean transformation that has sold more than 100,000 copies across five editions and is available in English, Danish, Swedish and Chinese.
In the tradition of ‘gemba’ (a Japanese term meaning ‘actual place, actual facts’), Matthias works closely with executives at a number of firms, both in terms of the research as well as executive education. He has worked with manufacturing firms all over the world to identify best practices, including global benchmarking studies of automotive assembly practices. The automotive industry has been a natural context for his work, while more recently he has started working with public and private sector service firms to understand the necessary adaption of manufacturing best practices to non-manufacturing settings. He has advised several government agencies on automotive industry matters; he was a member of the New Automotive Innovation and Growth Team (NAIGT), and currently serves on the UK Supply Chain Group of the Automotive Council UK at the Department for Business Innovation and Skills (BIS).
More recently, Matthias has started working on digital operations, and in particular the economics of additive manufacturing (“3D printing”), in order to determine how to use this set of new technologies to generate competitive advantage. He is particularly interested in learning what role digital manufacturing will play in reshaping product offerings, the competitive landscape between firms, and existing supply chain structures.
Prior to joining Oxford he was on the faculty of the University of Cambridge and a Sloan Industry Center Fellow at MIT’s Engineering Systems Division.
Matthias’s main areas of expertise are:
As a researcher, Matthias is interested in how process improvement is generated and sustained, and in turn, how it affects firm capabilities within a value chain context. He started his research in this field at MIT’s Engineering Systems Division, often viewed as the research ‘birthplace’ of Lean Production.
His research highlights the tension between optimising specific practices at the manufacturing level, and attaining system performance at supply chain level. His works shows that the organisational practices that yield superior operational performance also introduce core rigidities that can be very detrimental to firm performance. In a number of articles and a book published by MIT Press, he provided evidence that the 'islands of excellence' resulting from Lean Production efforts were antithetical to an efficient supply chain which, in turn, led him to investigate the mechanisms that cause this imbalance between functional and systemic performance.
Matthias’s research focuses on four fields, all related to the evolution, adaption and expansion of process improvement. His work is widely cited and has received several major awards, including a Top 1e0 Cited Paper Award for his 2007 paper in the Journal of Operations Management on the ‘Genealogy of lan production’ and the Sloan Foundation’s Best Industry Studies Book for his book The second century on extending Lean Production from the factory all the way to the customer (with Frits Pil).
His current work centres around the following themes:
The need to continually improve processes is a mandate for all firms in order to remain competitive. Over the past century we have learnt a lot about how to make factories more efficient, and more recently, many of these concepts have been successfully applied to service operations. The next frontier is to make our office processes more efficient. Under the broad term of ‘white collar lean’, Matthias investigates how to identify standard processes in the office context that could be made leaner, in order to avoid the common wastes of knowledge overproduction (e,g, ‘death by PowerPoint’) and over-communication (e.g. ‘email overload’), which he views as clear symptoms of failure that make our offices unproductive and stressful to work in.
This is an issue which resonates widely with executives. Matthias is currently working on series of case studies and experiments with major international companies in this field.
The economics of 3D printing
Additive Manufacturing (AM), also known as 3D Printing, has captured the imagination of many technology observers and manufacturing professionals. The technology has been widely heralded as a means to rethink design, digitise manufacturing, produce to customer demand, and customise products. While the technological abilities of AM systems have been widely discussed, we still lack a detailed understanding of the key variables that underpin the business case of AM. In this research we set out to develop a total cost model of AM operations, as a fundamental precursor to defining viable business cases for novel, as well as redistributed, manufacturing applications. Initial findings have been published in the Harvard Business Review and in our report “The Economics of 3D printing”.
Industrial policy and automotive industry studies
Many of the key Operations Management concepts originate in the automotive industry, so the industry marks a natural context for research on process improvement. In addition to the work with HM Government on the Automotive Council, a current project aims to identify the key factors that firms use in their decision to manufacture or source in Europe. This project is based on interviews with plant managers in the UK, Germany and Sweden, and is conducted in collaboration with Chalmers University in Sweden.
A further question of interest is to identify levers for governments to foster the development and commercialisation of new technologies, such as low-carbon powertrains, without prejudging the dominant design or distorting competition. HIs most recent work has been published in his most recent book, for more information visit our website: Crisis, Resilience and Survival.
The main thrust of Matthias’s work has been, and will continue to be, on questions that are important to not only to theory, but also to practice and policy. Matthias works closely with executives at a number of firms, both in terms of the research as well as executive education. He has worked with manufacturing firms all over the world to identify best practices, including global benchmarking studies of automotive assembly practices. The automotive industry has been a natural context for his work, but more recently he has been working with public and private sector service firms to understand the necessary adaption of manufacturing best practices to non-manufacturing settings.
He systematically publishes some of his work in outlets that are accessible reading for managers (such as Harvard Business Review, MIT Sloan Management Review and California Management Review). He is the co-author of the Lean Toolbox (with John Bicheno), a reference guide written for practitioners to provide them with everything they need to implement lean processes in their own company. It is widely used in industry as a guideline for lean transformations.
Matthias takes an active role in industrial policy, especially with regard to the UK automotive industry. He was the only academic member selected for the New Automotive Innovation and Growth Team (2008–09), which brought together the CEOs of the UK’s major automotive firms, to advise HM Government on how to sustain and improve the automotive industry in the UK. For the NAIGT Matthias analysed the competitive status of the UK automotive industry, which contributed to the Automotive Council UK being established in 2009. The Council is co-chaired by the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, and continues to provide a regular forum for industry leaders and HM Government to interact. Matthias remains actively engaged with the Supply Chain Group of the Automotive Council. A second report identifying supply chain growth opportunities was launched by the Rt Hon Dr Vince Cable, MP, in 2011, and a third report mapping the entire UK automotive supply base is currently under development in collaboration with BIS and the SMMT.
Matthias is a member, and past member of the board, of the European Operations Management Association, and an Associate Editor at the Journal of Operations Management. He also actively engages with the Industry Studies Association, and is a past recipient of two Sloan Industry Center Fellowships.
He is a frequent media commentator in the UK and elsewhere. He has been interviewed on BBC TV News and Radio 4 on a number of occasions regarding automotive issues, such as product recalls, competitive dynamics, and supply chain disruptions.
Matthias leads the core Technology & Operations Management MBA course, and offers electives in the areas of Lean Six Sigma and Supply Chain Management. His vision for teaching is to identify the theoretical mechanisms and concepts that underlie many of the ‘buzzwords’ commonly talked about in Operations Management, such as JIT, TQM, Lean, Six Sigma, and ERP, and then link these concepts to applications and cases.
The programmes he leads tend to focus on process improvement in manufacturing, services and the office, but also on supply chain management and global manufacturing/sourcing. He sees this as creating a virtuous circle whereby his executive teaching informs, and at the same time challenges, his research. He has regularly published the results of industry projects in leading academic and practitioner journals. For example, his paper on ‘enterprise partnerships’ (California Management Review, 2012, with Prof Frits Pil) developed out of an executive programme for Xchanging (a business process outsourcing firm) that evolved into a detailed case study working with the senior executives of both Xchanging and BAE Systems.
Saïd Business School
University of Oxford
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