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How to Do a Systematic Literature Review

There has been a recent trend in several management disciplines, including supply chain management, to create knowledge by systematically reviewing available literature. So far, however, our discipline lacked a “gold standard” that guides researchers in this endeavor. The Journal of Supply Chain Management has now published our new article, Durach, Kembro & Wieland (2017): A New Paradigm for Systematic Literature Reviews in Supply Chain Management. Our systematic literature review process follows six steps: (1) develop an initial theoretical framework; (2) develop criteria for determining whether a publication can provide information regarding this framework; (3) identify literature through structured and rigorous searches; (4) conduct theoretically driven selection of literature and a relevance test; (5) develop two data extraction structures, integrate data to refine the theoretical framework, and develop narrative propositions; and (6) explain the refined framework and compare it to the initial assumptions. We believe that these best-practice guidelines, although developed for the SCM discipline, can be used as a blueprint also for adjacent management disciplines.

Durach, C.F., Kembro, J. & Wieland, A. (2017). A New Paradigm for Systematic Literature Reviews in Supply Chain Management. Journal of Supply Chain Management, 53 (4), 67-85. DOI: 10.1111/jscm.12145

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.

The Dark Secret of the Chocolate Supply Chain

We cannot spare our students the dark secrets of supply chain management. As future decision makers, they need to understand the social and ecological consequences their decisions might have somewhere else on this planet. The chocolate supply chain is a perfect illustration of the complex relationships between consumerism, supply chain management, value creation, and ethical consequences. I have been using this example in my SCM courses for years. So, what is the impact of chocolate? The environmental group Mighty Earth has recently published an investigation into deforestation caused by chocolate: Chocolate’s Dark Secret. Their team visited several protected areas inside Ivory Coast and found that illegal cocoa production has entirely overtaken areas that had been covered by rain forests in the past. Particularly, they found that the world’s largest chocolate companies are connected to cocoa from sources linked to illegal deforestation. The report illustrates how cocoa moves through the supply chain and how value is created in the chocolate industry.

What is Theory?

There seems to be a lot of confusion about what theory is. At least this is a recurring question I get from students. Let us first discuss what theory is not: Sutton & Staw (1995) show that “references, data, variables, diagrams, and hypotheses are not theory” and they “explain how each of these five elements can be confused with theory” (p. 371). But we should also be aware of the difference between facts and theory! In his essay, which is part of a collection of six essays, Pagell (in: Boer et al., 2015) paints the picture of an ideal research world where “most research will be building or testing facts, not theory”, while “theory building and testing [will be left] to a much smaller group of papers, where the theoretical argument would be critical” (p. 1244). So, what is theory? A definition I like comes from Suddaby (2015): “[T]heory is simply a way of imposing conceptual order on the empirical complexity of the phenomenal world” (p. 1).

Behavioral Supply Chain Management

I am pleased to announce that our new article, The Human Factor in SCM: Introducing a Meta-theory of Behavioral Supply Chain Management, which I co-authored with Timm Schorsch and Carl Marcus Wallenburg, has now been published by the International Journal of Physical Distribution & Logistics Management. Our article provides a comprehensive overview of the behavioral supply chain management (BSCM) research landscape. In addition, we present a meta-theory of BSCM that encompasses all central elements of the research field. We also formulate five promising future research opportunities: Research being conducted in this area could (1) integrate cognitive and social psychological research, (2) apply a holistic view to decision-making and problem solving, (3) strengthen the concept of emergence and apply meso-level theory approaches, (4) complement our meta-theory, and (5) broaden the scope of inventory and capacity decision-making. We are confident that the critical discussions in our article and the formulated research opportunities will help scholars in positioning their own research to enhance its contribution.

A copy of our article can be requested via ResearchGate.

Schorsch, T., Wallenburg, C.M., & Wieland, A. (2017). The Human Factor in SCM: Introducing a Meta-theory of Behavioral Supply Chain Management. International Journal of Physical Distribution & Logistics Management, 47 (4), 238-262 DOI: 10.1108/IJPDLM-10-2015-0268

Implications from the Rana Plaza Disaster (Guest Post by Brian Jacobs and Vinod Singhal)

Today’s guest post comes from Brian Jacobs and Vinod Singhal, who present the results of their recent research on social issues in global textile supply chains.

Rana Plaza, an eight-story building in Bangladesh that housed garment factories employing approximately 5000 workers, collapsed on April 24, 2013. The resulting fatalities (over 1100) and injuries (over 2400) made it one of the worst industrial accidents in history. The scale of this tragedy increased awareness of the risks and costs of sourcing from low-cost countries. Such risks and costs are often assumed to be sufficient to motivate firms to source production in developed, high-cost countries rather than developing, low-cost countries. To examine this assumption, we studied the stock market reaction to 39 global apparel retailers with significant sourcing in Bangladesh. We found that although stock market reaction to retailers on the day of the Rana Plaza disaster was negative, its magnitude and significance dissipated by the following day. Our research shows that capital market forces alone are insufficient to prevent tragedies such as the Rana Plaza disaster, or to motivate large scale changes in sourcing patterns. In fact, garment exports from Bangladesh have increased since 2013 even though substandard working conditions persist. While managers should weigh ethics and their moral obligation in addition to financial considerations, it is doubtful that firms can affect the needed changes without participation by non-market forces such as NGOs and policymakers. For full details of our research, please see our article The Effect of the Rana Plaza Disaster on Shareholder Wealth of Retailers: Implications for Sourcing Strategies and Supply Chain Governance, forthcoming in Journal of Operations Management.

Vinod Singhal is a Professor of Operations Management and holds the Charles W. Brady Chair at the Scheller College of Business, Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta, Georgia. Brian Jacobs is an Associate Professor of Supply Chain Management at the Eli Broad College of Business, Michigan State University, East Lansing, Michigan.

Jacobs, B., & Singhal, V. (2017). The Effect of the Rana Plaza Disaster on Shareholder Wealth of Retailers: Implications for Sourcing Strategies and Supply Chain Governance. Journal of Operations Management DOI: 10.1016/j.jom.2017.01.002

Value of Air Cargo: Air Transport and Global Value Chains

I recently found an interesting report: Value of Air Cargo: Air Transport and Global Value Chains, published by Developing Trade Consultants. The authors write: “Global Value Chains (GVCs) represent a new trade and development paradigm. They enable countries to specialize in narrowly defined tasks, such as component production, research and development, or assembly. Tasks originating in a variety of countries are then combined through a complex network of trade and investment links, to produce finished goods […].” The report analyzes data to investigate the linkages between GVC trade and air cargo. It shows that countries engage in more trade in value terms if they have better air cargo connectivity – which is measured by an “Air Connectivity Index”. A strong association is found between a higher ACI score (i.e. stronger air connections to more countries) and a higher total trade value: “[O]ne percent increase in air cargo connectivity is associated with a 6.3% increase in total exports and imports.”

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