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Teaching Case – Everything Is Connected: A New Era of Sustainability at Li & Fung

The Case Centre has recently announced the winners of their 2018 global awards and competitions. Already last year, the winning case in the Production and Operations Management category was closely related to supply chain management (see my previous post, Zara: The World’s Largest Fashion Retailer). This is also the case for the 2018 category winner, which is titled Everything Is Connected: A New Era of Sustainability at Li & Fung. It was written by Hau L. Lee and Sheila Melvin. The case deals with the way how Li & Fung, a Hong-Kong-based trading company, reacted to the Rana Plaza disaster and other such events to ensure sustainable supply chain management. Li & Fung’s Head of Learning and Development is right when saying: “The hard part is to make sustainability part of our DNA, to get 27,000 people to understand that this is now as fundamental to us as the fact that we source globally.” Therefore, this case could be a great building block for future SCM courses!

Supply Chain Coordination with Contracts

Today I would like to talk about Supply Chain Coordination with Contracts, a chapter written by Cachon (2003). It has become the standard reference when it comes to teaching some key supply chain models. Coordination between the members of a supply chain is certainly very relevant but also challenging. Because the members of a supply chain are typically concerned with optimizing their own objectives, their actions might not lead to optimal supply chain performance. Therefore, contracts need to be carefully designed. The author “reviews and extends the supply chain literature on the management of incentive conflicts with contracts”. For example, Cachon presents key supply chain models, hereby extending the newsvendor model “by allowing the retailer to choose the retail price in addition to the stocking quantity” and “by allowing the retailer to exert costly effort to increase demand”. Teaching such models can help students to gain the required problem-solving competencies and abstraction capabilities that are needed in today’s business world.

Cachon, G.P. (2003). Supply Chain Coordination with Contracts. Handbooks in Operations Research and Management Science, 11 (Supply Chain Management: Design, Coordination and Operation), 227-339

How the Term “Supply Chain Management” Was Coined

It is widely known that the term “supply chain management” was popularized by Keith Oliver, among others, in the early 1980s. Interestingly, in a 2003 strategy+business article, Oliver has revealed that, looking for a catchy phrase, his consulting team originally proposed the term “integrated inventory management” (I2M). While, in our modern understanding, SCM is focused not only on intra- but also inter-organizational coordination and typically takes a more strategic perspective, “I2M” already focused on “tearing down the functional silos that separated production, marketing, distribution, sales, and finance to generate a step-function reduction in inventory and a simultaneous improvement in customer service”. Later, at a key steering committee meeting, Oliver’s team introduced “I2M” but “the phrase failed to resonate with participants”. One of the managers, a Mr. Van ’t Hoff, challenged Oliver to explain what he meant by “I2M”. I am not sure whether Mr. Van ’t Hoff is aware of it, but this moment marked the birth of the term “supply chain management”:
We are talking about the management of a chain of supply as though it were a single entity, Mr. Oliver replied, not a group of disparate functions. Then why dont you call it that? Mr. Van t Hoff said. Call it what? Mr. Oliver asked. Total supply chain management.

The Avocado Supply Chain

Among the best ways to teach supply chain management is by discussing different types of real-world supply chains. In their interesting report, Enabling Trade: From Valuation to Action, the World Economic Forum (in collaboration with Bain & Company) present several supply chains that could be discussed. The introdution makes one point clear: “The overall benefits to nations, producers and consumers are clear. However, making it happen is not as simple – particularly because supply chains cut across multiple stakeholders, requiring collaboration and leadership that goes beyond local constituents and borders.” This is where the report delves deeper into examples of practical application. Among the examples presented in the report is the avocado supply chain. This example demonstrated how “a number of supply chain improvements have enabled Kenyan avocados to be profitably exported to high-value markets in the European Union”. It illustrates that supply chains “must be able to react to changes in market dynamics in order to maintain a virtuous cycle”.

The Evolution of Trust

Trust plays an important role in supplier–buyer relationships. One way to approach this important concept is game theory. If you have ever wondered how game theory could be taught in a supply chain management course, I can recommend Nick Case’s The Evolution of Trust – an interactive guide to the game theory of why and how we trust each other. The guide starts by explaining the game of trust (= the prisoner’s dilemma). Then it illustrates what happens if multiple games and multiple tournaments are played with different players. We can learn from this guide that “the game defines the players” but also that “the players define the game”. We can learn that, in order for trust to evolve, we need the knowledge of possible future repeat interactions, we need a win–win situation, and we need a low level of miscommunication. I will definitely use The Evolution of Trust in my future supply chain management courses.

Fisher’s Supply Chain–Product Match/Mismatch Framework

I have used Fisher’s (1997) supply chain–product match/mismatch framework (What Is the Right Supply Chain for Your Product?) in my teaching for years! Herein, the author argues that functional products require a physically efficient supply chain strategy, whereas innovative products require a market-responsive supply chain strategy. Fisher’s framework finds empirical support: Wagner et al. (2012) demonstrate that “the higher the supply chain fit, the higher the Return on Assets (ROA) of the firm”. Interestingly, a majority of the firms from their sample achieve a negative misfit, i.e. they target high responsiveness for their supply chain although their products are functional. Extensions of the framework exist, for example by Lee (2002), who adds a “supply” dimension, and more recently Gligor (2017), who argues that “benefits generated by perfect supply chain fit might be offset by the resources deployed to achieve that fit”. Research presented by Perez-Franco et al. (2016) helps to “capture, evaluate and re-formulate the supply chain strategy of a business unit”.

Fisher, M.L. (1997). What Is the Right Supply Chain for Your Product? Harvard Business Review, 75 (2), 105-116.

Showing Creativity in SCM Research

A colleague recently recommended the following article to me: Mansfield (2003): Spatializing Globalization: A “Geography of Quality” in the Seafood Industry. Herein, the author takes a look at the quality of products in that industry. She challenges “recent perspectives that define quality as an alternative to global, industrial forms of production” and “finds that quality is also important for industrial food production and for the global geography of the surimi [a fish paste] seafood industry”. In general, the author takes an interpretive approach – an approach that is almost absent in SCM research, and that might be inspirational for our otherwise empiricist discipline. Particularly, she employs actor–network theory, which proposes that reality does not exist by nature but is rather constructed through socio-material networks. SCM researchers could learn from such a type of research that (1) theory could be mobilized in many different creative ways; (2) technical supply chain issues are embedded in larger social-political arrangements; (3) geography might inform SCM (theoretically as well as materially); and (4) “quality”, or other concepts, do not exist by nature but are stabilized through networks.

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