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Thinking Critically about SCM Practices

The Guardian has just published an interesting opinion piece by van der Kolk, titled Business Education Helps Create a Culture where the Profit Justifies the Means. Herein, the author, who is a university teacher of accounting, writes: “We need to see a much stronger integration of ethical considerations into business education. This is how managers make real-life business decisions. This could be achieved through a discussion on the technics and ethics of transfer pricing in one and the same accounting class, using a case that highlights both aspects. Business education should also challenge its own underlying assumptions about human behaviour, and bring in other disciplines such as the humanities to help students think critically about business practices that are taken for granted.” The author makes an excellent case for accounting, but his arguments certainly also apply for other business disciplines, including supply chain and operations management. If that is the case, how should we change our ways of teaching?

The Dark Side of Interorganizational Relationships

What would supply chain management be without interorganizational relationships! Interorganizational relationships are always great, right? Maybe it is not that simple, if we look at a brand-new article by Oliveira & Lumineau, titled The Dark Side of Interorganizational Relationships: An Integrative Review and Research Agenda. What they mean by the “dark side” of interorganizational relationships are negative dimensions or, in their words, “damaging aspects” of such relationships, including detrimental outcomes, ill-intended behaviors or unethical practices. These aspects are driven by competence or integrity issues. Based on a review of the literature, the authors identified antecedents, ex-ante and ex-post moderators as well as consequences that are rooted in the country, industry, interorganizational relationship, partner and individual levels of analysis. The authors “not only discussed actionable research steps aimed at addressing lacunae in the current knowledge but also presented a research agenda to advance the theory on the dark side of IORs”. I am sure this piece will be inspiring also for many SCM researchers.

Oliveira, N. & Lumineau, F. (2018). The Dark Side of Interorganizational Relationships: An Integrative Review and Research Agenda. Journal of Management, https://doi.org/10.1177/0149206318804027

The Supply Chain of a Computer

The Supply Chain of a ComputerSometimes a picture is worth a thousand words. A map of our globe enables us to reflect upon key issues in SCM: Who is actually producing our computers? Where does value creation take place? What are the core competencies of the brand company? Who is governing the computer supply chain? What is the role of contract manufacturers? Why is final assembly being done in China and not in the EU or Canada? Why is packaging being done in Eastern Europe or Mexico and not in China; and why not in Northern Europe or Canada, where the consumers are located? What modes of transport should be used? How long does it take to move a container from Hong Kong to Hamburg? What is the size of a container? What are typical container shipping rates? What can be problematic about sourcing raw materials from the Congo? How would you calculate the CO2 emissions of a computer? How could a linear supply chain become circular? What role will machine learning play? How will the supply chain change in the age of automation? What is the potential role of 3D printing? Is a “supply” chain about “supply” or is “demand” actually the factor that we should be looking? Is a supply “chain” actually a “chain”?

Emerald Literati Network Awards for Excellence 2018

Emerald has recently announced the winners of their 2018 Emerald Literati Network Awards for Excellence. Numerous SCM-related articles have received outstanding paper or highly commended awards, and might thus serve as excellent articles to read during summer. Several winning articles relate to external (Abdallah, Abdullah & SalehFawcett et al. and Ralston, Richey & Grawe) and internal (Guo et al., Makepeace, Tatham & Wu and Roh et al.) supply chain relationships. Other articles are about risk management (Jahre, Min, Park & Ahn and Oliveira & Handfield) and resilience (Ali, Mahfouz & Arisha and Tukamuhabwa, Stevenson & Busby). Other winning articles deal with sustainability (Busse et al., Dubey, Gunasekaran & Papadopoulos and Ghani et al.), complexity (Gerschberger, Manuj & Freinberger and Sayed, Hendry & Bell), the Internet of things (Haddud et al. and Yan), disruptive innovation (Pérez, Dos Santos & Cambra-Fierro) and the human factor in SCM (Schorsch, Wallenburg & Wieland). Finally, McKinnon‘s article engages in the journal ranking debate, and our own methodological paper, Wieland et al., provides guidelines for scale purification.

Three Types of SCM Definitions

Today, I present Mentzer et al.’s (2001) must-read article, Defining Supply Chain Management. The authors demonstrate that, “although definitions of SCM differ across authors […], they can be classified into three categories”: (1) SCM as a management philosophy (= supply chain orientation), which involves a systems approach to viewing the supply chain as a whole, a strategic orientation toward cooperative efforts, and a customer focus; (2) SCM as an implementation of a management philosophy, which involves seven activities such as “mutually sharing information”; and (3) SCM as a set of management processes, which includes processes such as “customer relationship management” and “order fulfillment”. The article also contains a useful definition of SCM as “the systemic, strategic coordination of the traditional business functions and the tactics across these business functions within a particular company and across businesses within the supply chain, for the purposes of improving the long-term performance of the individual companies and the supply chain as a whole”.

Mentzer, J.T., DeWitt, W., Keebler, J.S., Min, S., Nix, N.W., Smith, C.D. & Zacharia, Z.G. (2001). Defining Supply Chain Management. Journal of Business Logistics, 22 (2), 1–25. https://doi.org/10.1002/j.2158-1592.2001.tb00001.x

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