There are different types of case-based research methods that differ considerably in their basic assumptions and objectives. An example of such a method is the multi-case theory-building approach, which is based on the work of Kathleen M. Eisenhardt. Her 1989 article, which laid the foundation for this method, has been cited tens of thousands of times to date. Unfortunately, there are countless misconceptions about the method in terms of types of data, number of cases, and performance emphasis. The method is also often overinterpreted as a rigid template, although it was never intended to be such a template. In a new article entitled What Is the Eisenhardt Method, Really?, Eisenhardt now puts her method in a new light and argues that the method’s relatively few defining features enable a wide variety of research possibilities. It should be clear that this new article is important reading for anyone who wants to do research with Eisenhardt’s method and for anyone whose work aims at theory building.
Eisenhardt, K.M. (2021). What Is the Eisenhardt Method, Really? Strategic Organization, 19(1), 147–160. https://doi.org/10.1177/1476127020982866
Our discipline is still almost exclusively shaped by positivism. This is very surprising in view of the very complex social phenomena with which the discipline deals. However, recently I have noticed a (slowly) growing trend toward interpretivism. For example, Darby and her coauthors (2019) have discussed the set of questions interpretive research can address in SCM. Many SCM researchers may still be unsure of how best to conduct an interpretive study. Used to the structured approaches of positivist studies (e.g., Yin), we often would like to have a template in hand that shows us how to conduct an interpretive study. A new article by Mees-Buss and her coauthors (2021) argues that the inductive route to theory that templates (e.g., Gioia) offer do not address the challenges of interpretation. They argue that “a return to a hermeneutic orientation opens the way to more plausible and insightful theories based on interpretive rather than procedural rigor” and they offer “a set of heuristics to guide both researchers and reviewers along this path”.
Mees-Buss, J., Welch, C., & Piekkari, R. (2021), From Templates to Heuristics: How and Why to Move Beyond the Gioia Methodology. Organizational Research Methods, in print. https://doi.org/10.1177/1094428120967716
The term “case” is used in two meanings: as case-based empirical research and as a learning tool. Let us have a look at the latter meaning. In an article published by the Decision Sciences Institute, titled Writing a Great Case, Visich, Roethlein, Gravier & Reyes (2020) discuss important issues that need to be considered when writing such a case, which comprises the case and a teaching note. They cover important aspects, such as the initial case development, the actual writing process, tactics for student engagement, the teaching note, and teaching the case. The authors write: “Though writing a great case can be time consuming, we have found that writing a great case can be a highly rewarding experience. The case is a learning tool that we can bring into our classroom to reinforce student knowledge and through class discussion provide them with a forum to support their analysis of the case. Through our own cases we can create an interesting and interactive learning experience for everyone in our classroom.”
Norrman & Jansson’s (2004) case study on Ericsson’s supply chain risk management (SCRM) practices is definitely part of the canon of SCM literature. After 15 years, it was time for an update. Together with Andreas Norrman, I visited Ericsson in Stockholm to investigate their SCRM practices. The results can now be found in our new article, The Development of Supply Chain Risk Management over Time: Revisiting Ericsson. Our article demonstrates how Ericsson’s SCRM practices have developed, indicating that improved functional capabilities are increasingly combined across silos and leveraged by formalized learning processes. Important enablers are IT capabilities, a fine-grained and cross-functional organization, and a focus on monitoring and compliance. Major developments in SCRM are often triggered by incidents, but also by requirements from external stakeholders and new corporate leaders actively focusing on SCRM and related activities. Although our article did not focus on SCM in the era of COVID-19, decision-makers can learn about many practices and tools that might also be useful to cope with the current situation.
Norrman, A. & Wieland, A. (2020). The Development of Supply Chain Risk Management over Time: Revisiting Ericsson. International Journal of Physical Distribution & Logistics Management, 50 (6), 641-666. https://doi.org/10.1108/IJPDLM-07-2019-0219
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!
Academics and students often have very different ideas in mind when they talk about case study research. Indeed, case studies in SCM research are not alike and several different case study research designs can be distinguished. A recent article by Ridder (2017), titled The Theory Contribution of Case Study Research Designs, provides an overview of four common approaches. First, there is the “no theory first” type of case study design, which is closely connected to Eisenhardt’s methodological work. The second type of research design is about “gaps and holes”, following Yin’s guidelines. This type of case study design is what can be seen in SCM journals maybe most often. A third design deals with a “social construction of reality”, which is represented by Stake. Finally, the reason for case study research can also be to identify “anomalies”. A representative scholar of this approach is Burawoy. Each of these four approaches has its areas of application, but it is important to understand their unique ontological and epistomological assumptions. A very similar overview is provided by Welch et al. (2011).
Ridder, H.G. (2017). The Theory Contribution of Case Study Research Designs. Business Research, 10 (2), 281-305. https://doi.org/10.1007/s40685-017-0045-z
Just like OM research, SCM research is dominated by three research methodologies: (1) analytical modelling research (optimization, computational, and simulation models etc.), (2) quantitative empirical research (surveys etc.), and (3) case study research. There has been a recent trend towards multi-methodological research that combines different methodologies. A new article by Choi, Cheng and Zhao, titled Multi-Methodological Research in Operations Management, investigates this trend. The authors “present some multi-methodological approaches germane to the pursuit of rigorous and scientific operations management research” and “discuss the strengths and weaknesses of such multi-methodological approaches”. The authors make clear that multi-methodological approaches can make our research “more scientifically sound, rigorous, and practically relevant” and “permit us to explore the problem in ‘multiple dimensions’”. However, such research can also be “risky as it requires high investments of effort and time but the final results might turn out to be not fruitful”. Anyhow, as the authors conclude: “no pain, no gain”!
Choi, T., Cheng, T., & Zhao, X. (2015). Multi-Methodological Research in Operations Management. Production and Operations Management DOI: 10.1111/poms.12534