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Flexibility from a supply chain perspective: definition and review

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal article

Published
<mark>Journal publication date</mark>2007
<mark>Journal</mark>International Journal of Operations and Production Management
Issue number7
Volume27
Number of pages29
Pages (from-to)685-713
Publication StatusPublished
<mark>Original language</mark>English

Abstract

Purpose – A growing body of literature has begun to recognise that in the era of supply chain management it is important to look beyond the flexible factory to the flexible supply chain. This paper seeks to further our understanding of supply chain flexibility and provide a comprehensive review of the available literature.

Design/methodology/approach – Published literature on supply chain flexibility has been considered. Where appropriate, additional insights have been obtained from related streams such as manufacturing flexibility, agility and supply chain responsiveness.

Findings – Much of the existing research has a limited definition of supply chain flexibility and describes flexibility simply as a reactive means to cope with uncertainty. Supply chain flexibility has emerged from the manufacturing flexibility literature and hence to date is largely confined to a manufacturing context (neglecting the role of services). Empirical research often takes the form of a cross-sectional postal questionnaire conducted at the firm-level that fails to explore the inter-organisational components of supply chain flexibility.

Originality/value – The paper presents a timely review of the available literature and provides a more complete definition of flexibility in the context of supply chains. It is argued that future empirical research should approach research design from a network perspective, treating the supply chain as the unit of analysis, in order to develop a more complete understanding of the effects of flexibility across the whole supply chain. The paper also explores combining a flexible supply chain strategy with proactive means of reducing unwanted supply chain uncertainty, focusing on the roles of supply chain design, supply chain collaboration and inter-organisational information systems.