OperatiOns strategy: will it ever realize its pOtential?
Nigel Slack warwick Business school, University of warwick, Cv4 7al, UK,
Although the last three decades have seen a steady rise in the perceived importance of operations strategy together with its corresponding literature base, one could argue that it has not yet reached its full potential. This paper reviews some of the reasons why this may be. It starts by briefly examining the importance of operations strategy within the broader operations management area and then examines some challenges to the subject under two headings. The first heading concerns whether operations strategy accurately reflects the nature of 'operations' within the economy. The second heading examines some of the challenges in making any operations-based topic into one that has strategic relevance. Finally, a number of prescriptions are put forward that may allow the development of the subject to answer some of the challenges posed. Keywords: operations strategy, manufacturing operations, service operations, research trends.
v.12, n.3, p.323-332, set.-dez. 2005
1. Introduction For years the concept of operations strategy seemed a
contradiction in terms. Strategy is broad, long-term, ag- gregated, and the concern of the most senior manage- ment in the business. Operations, on the other hand, are detailed, complex, concerned with day-to-day issues, and carried out by those towards the lower levels of the organ- izational hierarchy. Yet this is to confuse operations with operational. Operational is indeed the opposite of strate- gic. But operations are the resources that create services and products, the parts of the business that satisfy custom- ers' needs. But, arguably, what seems like a semantic dif- ference has troubled the development of a clear operations strategy development trajectory. Academics and practi- tioners who believe that the study of operations is limited to operational matters are fundamentally misunderstand- ing the contribution of operations management to strategy and, more importantly, the huge potential that operations has to deliver sustainable competitive advantage.
Fortunately, the number of academics who make this mistake is rapidly declining. The number of powerful and increasingly well-articulated arguments that illustrate the contribution of operations to strategic success that have come from authors such as Skinner (1969), Hayes and Pisano (1996) etc., have convinced most of the impor- tance of operations strategy. However, there are many practitioners and many businesses that either do not fully understand this argument or have yet to be convinced. And this must be counted, at least partially, as a failure of academic operations strategy. So, notwithstanding the significant growth of interest in the operations strategy area, it is worth at least posing the question of whether it could have had an even greater impact.