You should all read this interesting article: Approaching the Conceptual Leap in Qualitative Research by Klag & Langley (2013), which is useful for researchers who build theory from qualitative data. Its central message is “that the abductive process is constructed through the synthesis of opposites that [the authors] suggest will be manifested over time in a form of ‘bricolage’.” The authors use four dialectic tensions: deliberation—serendipity, engagement—detachment, knowing—not knowing, social connection—self-expression. One of the poles of each dialectic has a disciplining character, the other pole has a liberating influence: On the one hand, overemphasizing the disciplining poles “may result in becoming ‘bogged down’ in contrived frameworks (deliberation), obsessive coding (engagement), cognitive inertia (knowing) or collective orthodoxy (social connection)”. On the other hand, overemphasizing the liberating poles “can also be unproductive as researchers wait for lightning to strike (serendipity), forget the richness and nuances of their data (detachment), reinvent the wheel (not knowing) or drift off into groundless personal reflection (self-expression)”.
Klag, M., & Langley, A. (2013). Approaching the Conceptual Leap in Qualitative Research. International Journal of Management Reviews, 15 (2), 149-166 DOI: 10.1111/j.1468-2370.2012.00349.x
Jay Wright Forrester was “an electrical engineer whose insights into both computing and organizations more than 60 years ago gave rise to a field of computer modeling that examines the behavior of things as specific as a corporation and as broad as global growth”, as the New York Times writes in an obituary. Forrester was a pioneer of systems dynamics, which “deals with how things change through time, which includes most of what most people find important”, as he once wrote. Forrester’s (1961) book Industrial Dynamics had a huge impact on the development of supply chain management. Herein, he studied “the behavior of industrial systems to show how policies, decisions, structure, and delays are interrelated to influence growth and stability”. His analysis of what we call “supply chain” today revealed an effect now known as the bullwhip effect – undoubtedly the single most important theory in supply chain management. Forrester died last week at his home in Concord, Massachusetts.
Forrester, J.W. (1961). Industrial Dynamics. ISBN 0262060035
I believe we all have already experienced this: The same concept can sometimes be defined in very different ways by different authors. Conceptual clarity would certainly be great, but how can we achieve it? Think, for example, about concepts such as trust, integration or dependence. So, what do we really mean when we are talking about them? In their new article, Recommendations for Creating Better Concept Definitions in the Organizational, Behavioral, and Social Sciences, Podsakoff, MacKenzie & Podsakoff (2016) present four stages for developing good conceptual definitions: Researchers need to (1) “identify potential attributes of the concept and/or collect a representative set of definitions”; (2) “organize the potential attributes by theme and identify any necessary and sufficient ones”; (3) “develop a preliminary definition of the concept”; and (4) “[refine] the conceptual definition of the concept”. For each of these stages, the authors provide comprehensive guidelines and examples which can help supply chain researchers to improve the definitions of the concepts we use.
Podsakoff, P., MacKenzie, S., & Podsakoff, N. (2016). Recommendations for Creating Better Concept Definitions in the Organizational, Behavioral, and Social Sciences. Organizational Research Methods, 19 (2), 159-203 https://doi.org/10.1177/1094428115624965
In their very insightful essay, Toward the Theory of the Supply Chain, Carter, Rogers & Choi (2015) argue that “before we continue to build theories of supply chain management, we must first develop a theory of the supply chain – the phenomenon that we purport to manage”. I could not agree more with their argument. Indeed, without focusing on the supply chain before focusing on how to manage it, SCM research would not be more than fishing in murky waters. The authors present six foundational premises to characterize a supply chain. These provide “a holistic conceptualization of the supply chain – what it is and how it behaves”. Moreover, the authors present several future avenues for further developing their conceptualization of the supply chain. I can only recommend reading this important new paper and I am convinced that it will have a major influence on how future SCM research is being conducted.
Carter, C.R., Rogers, D.S., & Choi, T.Y. (2015). Toward the Theory of the Supply Chain. Journal of Supply Chain Management, 51 (2), 89–97 DOI: 10.1111/jscm.12073
Trends in management towards a concentration on core competencies and outsourcing of non-core activities have created complex networks, i.e., global supply chains. At the same time, it has been discussed that this increased complexity has also made companies more vulnerable. An interesting paper, Structural Drivers of Upstream Supply Chain Complexity and the Frequency of Supply Chain Disruptions, co-authored by Bode and Wagner, is currently forthcoming in the Journal of Operations Management. Herein, the authors distinguish between three drivers of upstream supply chain complexity: (1) horizontal complexity (= the number of direct suppliers in a firm’s supply base), (2) vertical complexity (= the number of tiers in the supply chain), and (3) spatial complexity (= the geographical spread of the supply base). Based on survey data, the authors find that all of these three drivers increase the frequency of supply chain disruptions. It is further found that these three variables even amplify each other’s effects in a synergistic fashion.
Bode, C., & Wagner, S. (2015). Structural Drivers of Upstream Supply Chain Complexity and the Frequency of Supply Chain Disruptions. Journal of Operations Management, 36, 215–228 https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jom.2014.12.004
Today, I would like to draw your attention to one of my favorite articles in the field of supply chain management: Design for Postponement by Swaminathan & Lee (2003). The article identifies three key postponement enablers: First, process standardization, where the initial steps of a process are standardized across a product line and distinct personalities are added at a later stage (e.g., localized manuals or power supply modules of a printer). Second, process resequencing, where more common components are added at the beginning of a process (e.g., cut of clothes), whereas components that create product differentiation are added later (e.g., color of clothes). Finally, component standardization, where key components are standardized to postpone decisions. The article also explains interesting concepts like “vanilla boxes” and “partial postponement”. I believe that postponement should be a key element of a supply chain management curriculum and that this classic article is really helpful to teach it.
Swaminathan, J.M., & Lee, H.L. (2003). Design for Postponement. Handbooks in Operations Research and Management Science, 11 (Supply Chain Management: Design, Coordination and Operation), 199-226 https://doi.org/10.1016/S0927-0507(03)11005-5
Two ingredients are needed to create supply chain resilience (Wieland & Wallenburg, 2013): robustness, which is proactive, and agility, which is reactive. Robustness builds on anticipation “to gain knowledge about potential changes that might occur in the future” and preparedness “to maintain a stable situation”. Agility builds on visibility “to gain knowledge about actual changes that are currently occurring” and speed “to get back to a stable situation”.
Wieland, A., & Wallenburg, C.M. (2013). The Influence of Relational Competencies on Supply Chain Resilience: A Relational View. International Journal of Physical Distribution & Logistics Management, 43 (4), 300-320 https://doi.org/10.1108/IJPDLM-08-2012-0243
Are you currently conducting conceptual, qualitative, or survey research? Are you also aiming to publish the results in a top journal? Then I have some tips for you that could bring you one step closer to your goal. These tips can be found in a recent JBL editorial: A Trail Guide to Publishing Success: Tips on Writing Influential Conceptual, Qualitative, and Survey Research. Herein, the authors identify and describe agreed-upon basics that can help to “(1) increase consistency in the review process, (2) reduce publication cycles, and (3) begin to roll back the length of articles”. For three types of research (conceptual, qualitative, and survey research), best practices are presented for crafting articles. I especially like a table with warning signs “that authors are wandering down a perilous path”, which can be used as a check list for your own research. These warning signs might also help reviewers to evaluate the quality of a manuscript.
Fawcett, S., Waller, M., Miller, J., Schwieterman, M., Hazen, B., & Overstreet, R. (2014). A Trail Guide to Publishing Success: Tips on Writing Influential Conceptual, Qualitative, and Survey Research. Journal of Business Logistics, 35 (1), 1-16 https://doi.org/10.1111/jbl.12039
It can be very insightful to see how supply chains are viewed in other research fields. Gereffi, Humphrey and Sturgeon (2005) take a transaction-based political economy perspective to explain The Governance of Global Value Chains. To do so, three variables (complexity of transactions, ability to codify transactions, capabilities in the supply base) are identified, and combinations of the values of these variables constitute the structure of global value chains, leading to five types of governance (market, modular, relational, captive, hierarchy). Hereby, “market” contains the lowest level of explicit coordination and power asymmetry, whereas “hierarchy” contains the highest one. I was somewhat surprised that the article, although having been cited more than 2,700 times, has been quite ignored by SCM researchers. Likewise, Ponte and Sturgeon (2014) in their recent article that attempts to draw together GVC theory lacks any citation to the SCM literature. We might, more than in the past, think outside of the boxes we have framed if we don’t want to miss results potentially relevant for our highly overlapping fields of enquiry.
Gereffi, G., Humphrey, J., & Sturgeon, T. (2005). The Governance of Global Value Chains. Review of International Political Economy, 12 (1), 78-104 DOI: 10.1080/09692290500049805
Ponte, S., & Sturgeon, T. (2014). Explaining Governance in Global Value Chains: A Modular Theory-building Effort. Review of International Political Economy, 21 (1), 195-223 DOI: 10.1080/09692290.2013.809596