Executive's Guide to Supply Chain Research

Many people think supply chain research is boring and it is the ivory tower that they don't need to climb. This article will show you why research is relevant to you and how to study without damaging your brain!

What is research? In layman's terms, research is a way you solve problems in a systematic manner. And, you know very well, problems are a part of the international business environment. The reason people feel research or the scholarly article is the turn-off because they don't know which one they should read, which one they shouldn't.

Not Everything is Equal
So let's talk about the types of researches a bit.

Simply put, the aim of "Basic Research" is to observe and understand what happens (phenomenon) while "Applied Research" tries to answer the practical questions. "Action Research" is usually conducted by practitioners in a workplace to solve particular issues they're facing.

Example of Supply Chain Research
Following the same logic, we can demonstrate the types of researchers in supply chain management context as below

Jay Forrester observed that when the demand at the retailing level increased drastically so that the supply side couldn't catch up with the demand which leads to the instability of the whole supply chain. This is the example of "Basic Research".

Hau Lee investigated the similar phenomenon in the actual retail environment and provided the ways to reduce the demand uncertainty through the reduction of certain business practices such as inventory management, procurement, fewer negotiations and more information sharing between trading partners to improve customer service. This is the best example of "Applied Research".

And when developers incorporate these concepts and try to solve the problems using various technologies, supply chain visibility solutions was born, the clear example of "Action Research".

Practitioners can be cool too!
As you can see, theories are usually built by academics. However, there are some certain types of theories that are invented by practitioners through something similar to Action Research.

As you know very well, Toyota Production System, also known as TPS or Lean Manufacturing, was invented by Toyota when they tried to fight with Ford (action research). The result was pretty amazing that MIT needed to conduct a research program to determine how Toyota did very well (basic research). Then the body of knowledge has been extended and there are many new lean tools that are also used in six sigma project (applied research).

As a matter of fact, there are so many practices invented by practitioners like us that have very strong influences over the academic world, for example, Vendor Managed Inventory, Theory of Constraints, SCOR Model, S&OP or CPFR.

Magic Query
One problem associated with reading the scholarly article is the lack of access to a research database, this is where Google Scholar comes in.

- allintitle (1) : is used to specify that all keywords must be included in the titles of documents, not in all other parts of the documents. Of course, you can use a search query like Green Supply Chain AND Literature Review. But, the query makes the better result. 

The above screenshot shows how to perform a search query that gains the quick results,

filetype:pdf (2) is the way to tell Google Scholar to show only full-text in the pdf format. If you use, filetype:doc, you will only get documents in Microsoft Word format.

- The screenshot shows the result in pdf file (3).

- Click at "All xxx version (4)" to see all locations where the full text is hosted.

This is the only search query that I use because it's so quick and effective.

How to read the article?
Once obtaining about 10-15 full-text articles, it's time to actually read them. These are the reading sequence that will save your time,

1. Read the abstract/executive summary and try to find the phase,

The purpose/aim/objective of this article/research is...

This is the phase that helps you determine quickly if this is the article that can help you solve your problems. If it seems to be beneficial to you, go next step, otherwise, drop this article.

2. Read the last part of the article which may be called summary, conclusion or something in the same manner. Most of the time, this section will tell you briefly about,

- Purpose
- Results
- Managerial implications

If this section seems to answer your question too, read the whole article carefully, otherwise, forget about it.

3. Normally, 10-15 full-text articles will result in 2-3 articles that you have to actually read and you get about 1-2 articles that you can use. Spending 1-2 hours to do research this way will help you eliminate the unnecessary training, a seminar or even a consulting project.

Other places to find articles
From my experience, there are 4 other places that you can find some great articles as below,

Social Science Research Network or SSRN.com. Even though the name implies a subject about social science, there are many high-quality articles about logistics and supply chain management. About 80% of the articles here are free.

MIT Dspace, this is the only place you can find out how the world's leading companies like Amazon, Dell, and many others apply the cutting edge theories to improve operations management through Action Research. And of course, the access is free!

Cranfield Dspace, another good database for logistics and supply chain related research from Cranfield University in the UK.

Diva Portal, a database containing master's degree thesis and case studies of many leading European companies

- Research is relevant to practitioners
- Some of the theories are built by practitioners for practitioners
- Basic research such as survey research, development of algorithms must be extended many times by the academics before they can be used in actual business settings.
- Applied Research and Action Research are something that practitioners should read.

Do you find this article helpful? Any questions or comments, please don't hesitate to drop me a line.
All contents are written by Ben Benjabutr unless marked as [Guest Commentary]

About the Author and Editor:
Ben Benjabutr is the author and editor of SupplyChainOpz. He holds an M.Sc. in Logistics Management with 10+ years of experience in supply chain management. You can contact him via e-mail.