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Supply chain flexibility: an inter-firm empirical study

Research output: Contribution to Journal/MagazineJournal articlepeer-review

<mark>Journal publication date</mark>2009
<mark>Journal</mark>International Journal of Operations and Production Management
Issue number9
Number of pages26
Pages (from-to)946-971
Publication StatusPublished
<mark>Original language</mark>English


Purpose – The purpose of this paper is to present an empirical study of supply chain flexibility, asking: what specific inter-firm practices are used to achieve increased flexibility in buyer-supplier pairs and in the wider supply chain or network, and how do these practices and effects interact?

Design/methodology/approach – The approach taken is a qualitative study of a network of 16 inter-related manufacturing companies. Semi-structured face-to-face interviews with senior representatives from each company.

Findings – A wide range of supply chain flexibility practices are identified, some confirming existing research, some additional. These are grouped into ten categories, and two over-arching themes are found. First, firms use various forms of outsourcing and subcontracting to reduce their own need for internal flexibility. The second related insight is that, having externalised the need for flexibility, firms improve flexibility of the whole chain by engaging in committed relationships with counterparts. The authors term the ability to change counterparts “configuration flexibility” and the ability to change the timing, volume and design of supply “planning and control flexibility”. Therefore, it is suggested that firms make complex trade-offs between the two in the interest of achieving overall supply chain flexibility. These are presented in a model to allow for future refinement and testing.

Research limitations/implications – Supply chain flexibility is a strategic objective, but is not achieved by all members of supply chains aiming for as much flexibility as possible on all dimensions. The identification of the supply chain flexibility practices provides a starting point for further theoretical developments as well as for practice. In particular, further work is required to understand the interplay between the two types of flexibility identified.

Originality/value – Study of inter-connected supply chains, model linking practices to performance, and the main notions of configuration and planning and control flexibilities