106 Results


How Electronic Patient Records Can Slow Doctor Productivity

Electronic health records are sweeping through the medical field, but some doctors report a disturbing side effect. Instead of becoming more efficient, some practices are becoming less so. Robert Huckman's research explains why. Open for comment; 5 Comments posted.

Decommoditizing the Canned Tomato

Most commodity producers look to cut costs aggressively. So why is Mutti S.p.a, an Italian producer of tomato products, paying farmers more than competitors? Mary Shelman discusses her case study. Open for comment; 6 Comments posted.

The Tricky Business of Managing Web Advertising Affiliates

Advertising through numerous website affiliates potentially helps marketers get more bang for their buck. But the far-flung systems can also lead to fraud, says Ben Edelman. What's the best way to manage your advertising network? Open for comment; 2 Comments posted.

The Diseconomies of Queue Pooling: An Empirical Investigation of Emergency Department Length of Stay

Improving efficiency and customer experience are key objectives for managers of service organizations including hospitals. In this paper, the authors investigate queue management, a key operational decision, in the setting of a hospital emergency department. Specifically, they explore the impact on throughput time depending on whether an emergency department uses a pooled queuing system (in which a physician is assigned to a patient once the patient is placed in an emergency department bed) or a dedicated queuing system (in which physicians are assigned to specific patients at the point of triage). The authors measured throughput time based on individual patients' length of stay in the emergency department, starting with arrival to the emergency department and ending with a bed request for admission to the hospital or the discharge of a patient to home or to an outside facility. The findings show that, on average, the use of a dedicated queuing system decreased patients' lengths of stay by 10 percent. This represented a 32-minute reduction in length of stay—a meaningful time-savings for the emergency department and patients alike. The authors argue that physicians in the dedicated queuing system had both the incentive and ability to make sure their patients' care progressed efficiently, so that patients in the waiting room could be treated sooner than they otherwise would have. Read More

D’O: Making a Michelin-Starred Restaurant Affordable

Under the leadership of Chef Davide Oldani, the Italian restaurant D'O balances Michelin-star-level quality with affordable prices. In the following story and video, Professor Gary Pisano explains how Oldani does it. Open for comment; 10 Comments posted.

Hiding From Managers Can Increase Your Productivity

Harvard Business School Assistant Professor Ethan S. Bernstein explains why decreasing workplace transparency can increase productivity. Open for comment; 26 Comments posted.

What Shapes the Gatekeepers? Evidence from Global Supply Chain Auditors

Private gatekeepers, from credit rating agencies to supply-chain auditors, are supposed to provide unbiased, objective assessments of companies' internal operations, and such private assessments play a central role in contemporary regulatory regimes. While the impartiality of gatekeeping organizations has come into question over the past decade, little is known about what drives the decisions of the individual accountants, auditors, analysts, and attorneys who work at these organizations. Using data from a private, third-party social auditing firm that assesses global supply chain factories' adherence to corporate codes of conduct governing workplace conditions, this study reveals that external auditors' findings are shaped by a combination of economic incentives and social factors. The study highlights opportunities to design and staff audits to maximize their impartiality and credibility. Read More

Increased Speed Equals Increased Wait: The Impact of a Reduction in Emergency Department Ultrasound Order Processing Time

This study of ultrasound test orders in hospital emergency departments (EDs) shows that, paradoxically, increasing capacity in a service setting may not alleviate congestion, and can actually increase it due to increased resource use. Specifically, the study finds that reducing the time it takes to order an ultrasound counter intuitively increases patient throughput time as a result of increased ultrasound use without a corresponding increase in quality of care. Furthermore, the authors show that in the complex, interconnected system or hospitals, changes in resource capacity affects not only the patients who receive the additional resources, but also other patients who share the resource, in this case, radiology. These results highlight how demand can be influenced by capacity due to behavioral responses to changes in resource availability, and that this change in demand has far reaching effects on multiple types of patients. Interestingly, the increased ultrasound ordering capacity was achieved by removing what appeared to be a "wasteful" step in the process. However, the results suggest that the step may not have been wasteful as it reduced inefficient ultrasound orders. In healthcare, these results are very important as they provide an explanation for some of the ever-increasing costs: reducing congestion through increased capacity results in even more congestion due to higher resource use. Overall, the study suggests an operations-based solution of increasing the cost/difficulty of ordering discretionary but sometimes low-efficacy treatments to address the rise in healthcare spending. Therefore, to improve hospital performance it could be optimal to put into place "inefficiencies" to become more efficient. Read More

Organizational Factors that Contribute to Operational Failures in Hospitals

Despite a pressing need to do so, hospitals are struggling to improve efficiency, quality of care, and patient experience. Operational failures—defined as instances where an employee does not have the supplies, equipment, information, or people needed to complete work tasks—contribute to hospitals' poor performance. Such failures waste at least 10 percent of caregivers' time, delay care, and contribute to safety lapses. This paper seeks to increase hospital productivity and quality of care by uncovering organizational factors associated with operational failures so that hospitals can reduce the frequency with which these failures occur. The authors, together with a team of 25 people, conducted direct observations of nurses on the medical/surgical wards of two hospitals, which surfaced 120 operational failures. The team also shadowed employees from the support departments that provided materials, medications, and equipment needed for patient care, tracing the flow of materials through the organizations' internal supply chains. This approach made it possible to discover organizational factors associated with the occurrence and persistence of operational failures. Overall, the study develops propositions that low levels of internal integration among upstream supply departments contributed to operational failures experienced by downstream frontline staff, thus negatively impacting performance outcomes, such as quality, timeliness, and efficiency. Read More

The Impact of Conformance and Experiential Quality on Healthcare Cost and Clinical Performance

This study examines the relationship between hospital's focus on both conformance and experiential dimensions of quality and their impact on financial and clinical outcomes. Conformance quality measures the level of adherence to evidence-based standards of care achieved by the hospitals. Experiential quality, on the other hand, measures the extent to which caregivers consider the specific needs of the patient in care and communication, as perceived by the patient. These are important dimensions to investigate because hospitals may face a tension between improving clinical outcomes and maintaining their financial bottom-line. However, little has been known on the joint impact of these dimensions on hospital performance in terms of cost and clinical quality. The authors' study, which examined data from multiple sources for the 3,458 U.S. acute care hospitals, is a first step towards understanding these relationships. Results show that hospitals with high levels of combined quality are typically associated with higher costs, but better clinical outcomes, as measured by length of stay and readmissions. These results suggest that hospitals face a tradeoff between cost performance and clinical outcomes. The study also finds that the effect of conformance quality on length of stay is dependent on the level of experiential quality. Taken together, these findings underline the important synergy that exists between conformance and experiential quality with regards to clinical outcomes, a topic that has been completely overlooked in the extant literature. Read More

Everything Must Go: A Strategy for Store Liquidation

Closing stores requires a deliberate, systematic approach to price markdowns and inventory transfers. The result, say Ananth Raman and Nathan Craig, is significant value for the retailer and new opportunities for others. Closed for comment; 4 Comments posted.

How to Do Away with the Dangers of Outsourcing

The collapse of the Rana Plaza garment factory in Bangladesh should be a warning to companies that embrace outsourcing, says Professor Ranjay Gulati. Closed for comment; 8 Comments posted.

The Impact of Pooling on Throughput Time in Discretionary Work Settings: An Empirical Investigation of Emergency Department Length of Stay

Improving the productivity of their organizations' operating systems is an important objective for managers. Pooling—an operations management technique—has been proposed as a way to improve performance by reducing the negative impact of variability in demand for services. The idea is that pooling enables incoming work to be processed by any one of a bank of servers, which deceases the odds that an incoming unit of work will have to wait. Does pooling have a downside? The authors analyze data from a hospital's emergency department over four years. Findings show that, counter to what queuing theory would predict, pooling may actually increase procesdsing times in discretionary work settings. More specifically, patients have longer lengths of stay when emergency department physicians work in systems with pooled tasks and resources versus dedicated ones. Overall, the study suggests that managers of discretionary work systems should design control mechanisms to mitigate behaviors that benefit the employee to the detriment of customers or the organization. One mechanism is to make the workload constant regardless of work pace, which removes the benefit of slowing down. Read More

Learning Curve: Making the Most of Outsourcing

Companies that view outsourcing as an easy way to offload commodity work are missing powerful improvements to be gained by working closely with service providers, says Professor Robert S. Huckman. Open for comment; 5 Comments posted.

Hurry Up and Wait: Differential Impacts of Congestion, Bottleneck Pressure, and Predictability on Patient Length of Stay

This paper quantifies and analyzes trends related to the effects of increased workload on processing time across more than 250 hospitals. Hospitals are useful settings because they have varying levels of workload. In addition, these settings have high worker autonomy, which enables workers to more easily adjust their processing times in response to workload. Findings show that heavy load plays a significant role in processing times. Congestion is associated with longer lengths of stay. More surprisingly, when there is a high load of incoming patients from a low pressure area (emergency medical patients), current hospital inpatients' stays are longer compared to when incoming patients are from a high pressure area (emergency surgical patients). Furthermore, high predictability of the incoming patients (e.g. scheduled surgical patients) is associated with shorter lengths of stays for the current inpatients than when the incoming patients are less predictable (emergency surgical patients). In this study, there was no decrease in quality of care for patients with shorter lengths of stay. Read More

Why a Harvard Finance Instructor Went to the Kumbh Mela

Every 12 years, millions of Hindu pilgrims travel to the Indian city of Allahabad for the Kumbh Mela, the largest public gathering in the world. In this first-person account, Senior Lecturer John Macomber shares his first impressions and explains what he's doing there. Closed for comment; 12 Comments posted.

Reinforcing Regulatory Regimes: How States, Civil Society, and Codes of Conduct Promote Adherence to Global Labor Standards

Multinational corporations are under increasing pressure to manage their global supply chains in ways that are environmentally sustainable and socially responsible. Many companies have responded to this pressure by asking their suppliers to adhere to codes of conduct governing labor conditions and environmental management. This paper examines the conditions under which tens of thousands of suppliers across many countries are more likely to adhere to the labor practices these codes of conduct call for. Findings indicate that suppliers are more likely to adhere to codes of conduct in countries that not only have made binding domestic and international legal commitments to protect workers' rights, but that also have high levels of press freedom and nongovernmental organization activity. Greater code of conduct adherence is also found among suppliers that serve buyers located in countries where child labor is a more salient issue. This research reveals the critical importance of maintaining multiple, overlapping, and reinforcing governance systems, and urges caution to those hoping that private regulatory regimes can substitute for effective government regulation. Overall, this paper points the way toward building more effective private regulatory regimes. Read More

Diasporas and Outsourcing: Evidence from oDesk and India

Diaspora-based exchanges have been important for centuries, but the online world reduces many of the frictions these networks solved. How do the Internet and diaspora networks connect? This study investigated the importance of Indian diaspora connections on the oDesk platforms for outsourcing. oDesk is the world's largest online labor market, processing $30 million per month in contracts as of May 2012. This research finds strong evidence that diasporas still matter and influence economic exchanges even when many frictions are minimized. In fact, the case study suggests more often than not that diaspora use increases as familiarity with the platform increases. This suggests a longer-term complementarity between diaspora networks and online tools that may aid the persistence of these networks. At the same time, the oDesk evidence also makes clear that the role of diaspora networks should not be overstated. While they contributed to India's success on oDesk, diaspora connections were clearly not a driving force in India becoming the top destination for oDesk contracts. Read More

Why Business IT Innovation is so Difficult

If done right, IT has the potential to completely transform business by flattening hierarchies, shrinking supply chains, and speeding communications, says professor Kristina Steffenson McElheran. Why, then, do so many companies get it wrong? Closed for comment; 6 Comments posted.

Can We Bring Back the “Industrial Commons” for Manufacturing?

Summing Up: Does the US have the political will or educational ability to remake its manufacturing sector on the back of an 'industrial commons?' Professor Jim Heskett's readers are dubious. Open for comment; 26 Comments posted.

Off and Running: Professors Comment on Olympics

The most difficult challenge at The Olympics is the behind-the-scenes efforts to actually get them up and running. Is it worth it? HBS professors Stephen A. Greyser, John D. Macomber, and John T. Gourville offer insights into the business behind the games. Open for comment; 5 Comments posted.

When Supply-Chain Disruptions Matter

Disruptions to a firm's operations and supply chain can be costly to the firm and its investors. Many companies have been subjected to such disruptions, and the impact on company value varies widely. Do disruption and firm characteristics systematically influence the impact? In this paper, the authors identify factors that cause some disruptions to be more damaging to firm value than others. Insight into this issue can help managers identify exposures and target risk-mitigation efforts. Such insights will also help investors determine whether a company is exposed to more damaging disruptions. Read More

Can Decades of Military Overspending be Fixed?

Costs tend to rise in all organizations unless managers and their staffs have the motivation and skill to control them. Professor emeritus J. Ronald Fox analyzes this phenomenon during 50 years of US military overspending. Open for comment; 4 Comments posted.

Learning by Supplying

Offshore outsourcing of manufacturing and related activities to China and other emerging economies is changing the competitive landscape in many industries. Some predict that lessons learned by emerging market firms in their role as suppliers to major branded producers will allow them to develop the capabilities necessary to become viable world-class competitors, possibly at the expense of current market leaders. In this paper Juan Alcacer and Joanne Oxley subject this "learning by supplying" hypothesis to the test, analyzing data on evolving technological and marketing capabilities of suppliers in the mobile handset industry. Contrary to some of the more alarmist commentary in the popular press, the researchers' observations suggest that the progression from trusted supplier to threatening competitor among electronics manufacturing firms is far from inevitable. Findings also point to the existence of quite distinct pathways to technological and market learning for suppliers. The divergent learning outcomes for suppliers serving operators and branded producers reinforce the idea that, while operators involve suppliers in all aspects of production, branded producers strictly limit access to customer-facing activities, thus reducing suppliers' opportunities for learning in this domain. Read More

The Inner Workings of Corporate Headquarters

Analyzing the e-mails of some 30,000 workers, Professor Toby E. Stuart and colleague Adam M. Kleinbaum dissected the communication networks of HQ staffers at a large, multidivisional company to get a better understanding of what a corporate headquarters does, and why it does it. Open for comment; 6 Comments posted.

The Dynamic Effects of Bundling as a Product Strategy

This paper investigates the practice of bundling as a product strategy, and identifies how consumers make choices between products and bundles in a dynamic environment. Authors Timothy Derdenger and Vineet Kumar look at the handheld video game market to study bundling in a platform setting with the goal of investigating several key questions of interest to practitioners who make product decisions: First, do consumers value bundles over and beyond their component products, indicating a synergy, which some researchers have hypothesized? Second, have there been differing opinions on whether mixed bundling, that is offering both the bundle and individual products for sale, is more effective than offering only pure bundles or even compared to offering only the products for sale? Given the prevalence of bundling in technology markets, it is critical to understand whether bundling is more effective in environments with strong network effects or with weak network effects. Read More

Observation Bias: The Impact of Demand Censoring on Newsvendor Level and Adjustment Behavior

As the fundamental model for managing inventory under demand uncertainty, the newsvendor model has received significant research attention, but behavioral issues—the focus of this paper—have been less well studied. Nils Rudi and David Drake demonstrate how different aspects of the newsvendor model, a rather complex managerial decision setting, result in a combination of behavioral deviations from the normative solution prescribed within existing literature. The results can help managers prioritize order quantity improvements based on product margins and the degree of demand feedback available in the setting that they operate in. Read More

Got Local Food?

As consumers become more aware of the health and environmental implications of how food is grown and produced, demand for local food has increased considerably. This paper examines the operational tradeoffs in fresh produce supply to gain insights on what drives the structure of the supply chain and how "local food" can become a viable sourcing strategy for a large retailer. HBS professor Deishin Lee and coauthors show that there are complementary operational synergies when retailers and farmers increase scale and specialize. This implies that when small farmers are capacity constrained, they can be squeezed out of the supply chain. Technological advances in farming practices, efficiency gains in transportation, and space constraints in retail stores result in supply chain members mutually benefitting from their decision to increase scale, leading to specialization. The study characterizes the conditions under which vertical differentiation and operational scope can increase the viability of the small local farmer. This paper contributes to work on supply chain design and environmental sustainability. Read More

Location, Location, Location: The Strategy of Place

Business success in one geographic location doesn't necessarily follow a company to a new setting. Professor Juan Alcácer discusses the importance of taking a long-term strategic view. Open for comment; 12 Comments posted.

Engaging Supply Chains in Climate Change

Managing a company's risks and opportunities associated with climate change—including its physical and regulatory implications—requires focusing not only on internal operations, but also on supply chains, especially since greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in supply chains typically exceed those from a company's own operations. But this requires obtaining climate change information from suppliers, which some are reluctant to share. In this paper, Chonnikarn (Fern) Jira and Michael W. Toffel examine proprietary data from the Carbon Disclosure Project's Supply Chain Project, a collaboration of multinational corporations asking their key suppliers to share information about their GHG emissions and their vulnerabilities and opportunities associated with climate change. Jira and Toffel find evidence that a supplier is more likely to share this information when it faces several buyers requesting the information, when its buyers appear committed to actually using this information, and when the supplier is in a relatively competitive industry and is thus particularly vulnerable to being replaced by its rivals. These findings can help managers better predict which suppliers will be more willing to share climate change information, and which might require more incentives or pressure to share this information. Read More

Transforming Manufacturing Waste into Profit

Every manufacturing process leaves waste, but Assistant Professor Deishin Lee believes much of this left-behind material can be put to productive—and profitable—use. Open for comment; 17 Comments posted.

Immigrant Innovators: Job Stealers or Job Creators?

The H-1B visa program, which enables US employers to hire highly skilled foreign workers for three years, is "a lightning rod for a very heated debate," says Harvard Business School professor William Kerr. His latest research addresses the question of whether the program is good for innovation, and whether it impacts jobs for Americans. Open for comment; 36 Comments posted.

Signaling to Partially Informed Investors in the Newsvendor Model

Why might firms make operational decisions that purposefully do not maximize expected profits? This model looks at the question by developing scenarios using the example of inventory management in the face of an external investor. The research was conducted by Vishal Gaur of Cornell University, Richard Lai of the University of Pennsylvania, and Ananth Raman and William Schmidt of Harvard Business School. Read More

Delegation in Multi-Establishment Firms: Adaptation vs. Coordination in I.T. Purchasing Authority

Scholars have intensely studied the similarities and differences between organizations that are decentralized in their decision making versus those favoring more command-and-control central authority. What leads to a firm following a decentralized approach, and can that approach be predicted? Professor Kristina McElheran advances previous, largely theoretical, research on this subject to explore in the real world the economic determinants affecting how IT purchasing authority in 3,000 multi-establishment companies was allocated between central headquarters and outlying establishments. Read More

The Institutional Logic of Great Global Firms

In practice, many large firms are now realizing the importance of humanism in corporate management. But in academia, much of management theory is still stuck on the ideas of early industrialization - focusing solely on the idea that the only real value is financial value. In this paper, Rosabeth Moss Kanter discusses how social logic guides the practices of many high-performing companies. Kanter suggests that such successful practices should provoke the creation of new economic theory, which will in turn provoke other firms to take note. She puts forth several propositions to make the case. Read More

Japan Disaster Shakes Up Supply-Chain Strategies

The recent natural disaster in Japan brought to light the fragile nature of the global supply chain. Professor Willy Shih discusses how companies should be thinking about their supply-chain strategy now. Open for comment; 16 Comments posted.

QuikTrip’s Investment in Retail Employees Pays Off

Instead of treating low-paid staffers as commodities, a new breed of retailers such as QuikTrip assigns them more responsibility and invests in their development, says professor Zeynep Ton. The result? Happy customers and even happier employees. Open for comment; 9 Comments posted.

While Waiting for Japan’s Recovery, Let’s Enhance Supplier Competitiveness at Home

The Obama administration and US companies do not have to wait for Japanese suppliers to recover from earthquake damage, argues Harvard Business School professor Rosabeth Moss Kanter. Action can be taken now to ensure that America invests in growing our domestic stock of world-class suppliers. Open for comment; 3 Comments posted.

Harvard Business School Faculty Comment on Crisis in Japan

Harvard Business School faculty share their views and insights about the challenges that lie ahead for Japan's business leaders and for global companies operating there. Closed for comment; 11 Comments posted.

Data.gov: Matching Government Data with Rapid Innovation

Data.gov is a young initiative of President Barack Obama for making raw data available on the Web. In an HBS executive education class for technology specialists, professor Karim Lakhani and the US Chief Information Officer, Vivek Kundra, sparked dialogue about new routes to innovation. Read More

The Impact of Supply Learning on Customer Demand: Model and Estimation Methodology

"Supply learning" is the process by which customers predict a company's ability to fulfill product orders in the future using information about how well the company fulfilled orders in the past. A new paper investigates how and whether a customer's assumptions about future supplier performance will affect the likelihood that the customer will order from that supplier in the future. Research, based on data from apparel manufacturer Hugo Boss, was conducted by Nathan Craig and Ananth Raman of Harvard Business School, and Nicole DeHoratius of the University of Portland. Read More

The Task and Temporal Microstructure of Productivity: Evidence from Japanese Financial Services

Boredom and fatigue often hamper the productivity of workers whose jobs consist of repeating the same tasks. This paper explores ways in which companies can combat this problem, introducing the idea of the "restart effect" - a deliberate disruption that kindles productivity. Research, which focused on a loan-application processing line at a Japanese bank, was conducted by HBS professor Francesca Gino and Kenan-Flagler Business School assistant professor Bradley R. Staats. Read More

Turning Employees Into Problem Solvers

To improve patient safety, hospitals hope their staff will use error-reporting systems. Question is, how can managers encourage employees to take the next step and ensure their constructive use? New research by Julia Adler-Milstein, Sara J. Singer, and HBS professor Michael W. Toffel. Read More

Managerial Practices That Promote Voice and Taking Charge among Frontline Workers

How can front-line workers be encouraged to speak up when they know how to improve an organization's operation processes? This question is particularly urgent in the US health- care industry, where problems occur often and consequences range from minor inconveniences to serious patient harm. In this paper, HBS doctoral student Julia Adler-Milstein, Harvard School of Public Health professor Sara Singer, and HBS professor Michael W. Toffel examine the effectiveness of organizational information campaigns and managerial role modeling in encouraging hospital staff to speak up when they encounter operational problems and, when speaking up, to propose solutions to hospital management. The researchers find that both mechanisms can lead employees to report problems and propose solutions, and that information campaigns are particularly effective in departments whose managers are less engaged in problem solving. Read More

How Mercadona Fixes Retail’s ’Last 10 Yards’ Problem

Spanish supermarket chain Mercadona offers aggressive pricing, yet high-touch customer service and above-average employee wages. What's its secret? The operations between loading dock and the customer's hands, says HBS professor Zeynep Ton. Read More

Rocket Science Retailing: A Practical Guide

How can retailers make the most of cutting-edge developments and emerging technologies? Book excerpt plus Q&A with HBS professor Ananth Raman, coauthor with Wharton professor Marshall Fisher of The New Science of Retailing: How Analytics Are Transforming the Supply Chain and Improving Performance. Read More

Operational Failures and Problem Solving: An Empirical Study of Incident Reporting

Operational failures occur within organizations across all industries, with consequences ranging from minor inconveniences to major catastrophes. How can managers encourage frontline workers to solve problems in response to operational failures? In the health-care industry, the setting for this study, operational failures occur often, and some are reported to voluntary incident reporting systems that are meant to help organizations learn from experience. Using data on nearly 7,500 reported incidents from a single hospital, the researchers found that problem-solving in response to operational failures is influenced by both the risk posed by the incident and the extent to which management demonstrates a commitment to problem-solving. Findings can be used by organizations to increase the contribution of incident reporting systems to operational performance improvement. Read More

Measuring and Understanding Hierarchy as an Architectural Element in Industry Sectors

In an industry setting, classic supply chains display strict hierarchy, whereas clusters of firms have linkages going in many different directions. Previous theory has often assumed the existence of the hierarchical relationships among firms, and empirical industry studies tend to focus on a single-layer industry, or a two-layer structure comprising buyers and suppliers. And yet, some industries have a multilayer structure with a multistep supply chain. Others comprise a cluster of complementary firms producing different parts of a large system. HBS professor Carliss Y. Baldwin and colleagues use network analysis to study multilayer industries both empirically (in the case of Japan) and theoretically and to explore how industries are organized at the sector level in an attempt to reveal the underlying rules that determine how industry architectures form and change. Read More

Broadening Focus: Spillovers and the Benefits of Specialization in the Hospital Industry

What is the optimal scope of operations for firms? This question has particular relevance for the US hospital industry, because understanding the effects of focus and spillovers might help hospitals determine how they should balance focusing in a single clinical area with building expertise in related areas. While some scholars argue that narrowing an organization's set of activities improves its operational efficiency, others have noted that seemingly unfocused operations perform at a high level and that a broader range of activities may in fact increase firm value. This study by HBS doctoral student Jonathan Clark and professor Robert Huckman highlights the potential role of spillovers—specifically complementary spillovers—in generating benefits from focus at the operating unit level. Read More

Thinking Twice About Supply-Chain Layoffs

Cutting the wrong employees can be counterproductive for retailers, new research from Harvard Business School professor Zeynep Ton concludes. One suggestion: Pay attention to staff who handle mundane tasks such as stocking and labeling. Your customers do. Read More

How Many U.S. Jobs Are ‘Offshorable’?

Some 900 Harvard Business School students were asked to recreate a study assessing the potential "offshorability" of more than 800 occupations in the United States. Their findings: It might be a larger number than we thought. Read More

The Effect of Labor on Profitability: The Role of Quality

Determining staffing levels is an important decision in retail operations. In 2006, retailers spent $393 billion on employee wages, more than 10 percent of their revenue that year and more than their inventory holding costs. Hence, staffing levels have a major impact on retailers' costs. But at the same time, staffing levels affect conformance quality—how well employees execute prescribed processes—and service quality—the extent to which customers have a positive service experience at the stores. While there is overwhelming evidence that conformance quality and service quality improve sales, both generally and in retail settings, their effect on profitability is not clear. To examine how the amount of labor at a store affects profitability through its impact on conformance quality and service quality, Zeynep Ton analyzed extensive data from stores of a large retailer. Read More

Extending Producer Responsibility: An Evaluation Framework for Product Take-Back Policies

Managing products at the end of life (EOL) is of growing concern for durable goods manufacturers. While some manufacturers engage in voluntary "take back" of EOL products for a variety of competitive reasons, the past 10 years have seen the rapid proliferation of government regulations and policies requiring manufacturers to collect and recycle their products, or pay others to do so on their behalf. Toffel, Stein, and Lee develop a framework for evaluating the extent to which these product take-back regulations offer the potential to reduce the environmental impacts of these products in an effective and cost-efficient manner, while also providing adequate occupational health and safety protection. The evaluation framework is illustrated with examples drawn from take-back regulations in Europe, Japan, and the United States. Read More

JetBlue’s Valentine’s Day Crisis

It was the Valentine's Day from hell for JetBlue employees and more than 130,000 customers. Under bad weather, JetBlue fliers were trapped on the runway at JFK for hours, many ultimately delayed by days. How did the airline make it right with customers and learn from its mistakes? A discussion with Harvard Business School professor Robert S. Huckman. Read More

Exploring the Duality between Product and Organizational Architectures: A Test of the Mirroring Hypothesis

Products are often said to "mirror" the architectures of the organization from which they come. Is there really a link between a product's architecture and the characteristics of the organization behind it? The coauthors of this working paper chose to analyze software products because of a unique opportunity to examine two different organizational modes for development, comparing open-source with proprietary "closed-source" software. The results have important implications for development organizations given the recent trend toward "open" approaches to innovation and the increased use of partnering in research and development projects. Read More

Sharpening Your Skills: Operations Management

Can lean production methods be used in service industries? How can operations be used to competitive advantage? These are several of the questions answered in this month's Sharpening Your Skills on the topic of operations management. Read More

Bringing ‘Lean’ Principles to Service Industries

Toyota and other top manufacturing companies have embraced, improved, and profited by lean production methods. But the payoffs have not been nearly as dramatic for service industries applying lean principles. HBS professor David Upton and doctoral student Bradley Staats look at the experience of Indian software services provider Wipro for answers. Read More

Modularity, Transactions, and the Boundaries of Firms: A Synthesis

For the last 30 years economists have used the concepts of "transaction," "transaction cost," and "contract" to illuminate a wide range of phenomena, including vertical integration; the design of employment, debt, and equity contracts; and the structure of industries. These concepts are now deeply embedded in the fields of economics, sociology, business, and law. Theories explain how to choose between different forms of transactional governance. But why does a transaction occur where it does? Without this answer, the forces driving the location of transactions in a system of production remain largely unexplored. This paper explains the location of transactions (and contracts) in a system of production. It also presents a theory of technological change that predicts changes in the location of transactions and therefore in the structure of industries. Read More

Toward a Theory of Behavioral Operations

Research in psychology over the past several decades teaches us that behavioral biases and cognitive limits are not just "noise"; they systematically affect (and often distort) people's judgment and decision making. Despite such advances, however, most scholarly research in operations management still assumes that agents—be they decision makers, problem solvers, implementers, workers, or customers—either are fully rational or can be induced to behave rationally, usually with economic incentives. This paper builds on earlier studies to explore the theoretical and practical implications of incorporating behavioral and cognitive factors into operations management models. It then points to fruitful areas for future research. Read More

Alignment in Cross-Functional and Cross-Firm Supply Chain Planning

Organizational behavior has become an increasingly important aspect of operations management. In this paper, alignment refers to an organization's sales and manufacturing groups working toward the same target for the sales of a particular product. What are the best conditions in supply chain planning for alignment across functions and across the firm? Kraiselburd and Watson push the frontier of theory with their use of mathematical modeling and game theory. They show that seemingly behavioral and psychological effects may still occur if both parties are rational profit maximizers in an economic sense. Read More

Evolution Analysis of Large-Scale Software Systems Using Design Structure Matrices and Design Rule Theory

Designers have long recognized the value of modularity. But because design principles are informal, successful application depends on the designers' intuition and experience. Intuition and experience, however, do not prevent a company such as Microsoft from constantly grappling with unanticipated challenges and delays in bringing software to market. Clearly, designers need a formal theory and models of modularity and software evolution that capture the essence of important but informal design principles and offer ways to describe, predict, and resolve issues. This paper evaluates the applicability of model and theory to real-world, large-scale software designs by studying the evolution of two complex software platforms through the lens of design structure matrices (DSMs) and the design rule theory advanced by Kim Clark and Carliss Baldwin. Read More

Incorporating Price and Inventory Endogeneity in Firm-Level Sales Forecasting

Benchmarking and forecasting firm level performance are key activities for both managers and investors. Retailer performance can be tracked using a number of metrics including sales, inventory, and gross margin. For operational reasons, the sales, inventory, and gross margin for a retailer are interrelated. Retailers often use inventory and margin to increase sales; and sales, conversely, provide input to the retailer's decisions on inventory and margins. Inventory and margin also influence each other. This research uses firm-level annual and quarterly data for a large cross-section of U.S. retailers listed on NYSE, AMEX, or NASDAQ to construct a model that examines the interrelationships among sales per store, inventory per store, and margin. Read More

From Manufacturing to Design: An Essay on the Work of Kim B. Clark

The interdisciplinary research of economist Kim Clark, former dean of Harvard Business School and now President of Brigham Young University-Idaho, occupies a unique place in management scholarship for three reasons. First, he tended to focus on little known and under-appreciated management groups such as manufacturing managers, product development managers, and product and process architects. Thus, he directly positioned himself outside the "traditional" management disciplines of strategy, finance, marketing, and organizational behavior. Second, he swam against the academic tide by recognizing the power of comparative and longitudinal field studies. Third, he sought frameworks beyond his own field in design theory, the engineering sciences, and finance. This paper reviews his research contributions over almost thirty years. Read More

Industry Self-Regulation: What’s Working (and What’s Not)?

Self-regulation has been all over the news, but are firms that adopt such programs already better on important measures like labor and quality practices? Does adopting a program help companies improve faster? In this Q&A, HBS professor Michael Toffel gives a reality check and discusses the trends for managers. Read More

Electronic Hierarchies and Electronic Heterarchies: Relationship-Specific Assets and the Governance of Interfirm IT

Scholars have long been interested in the impact of information technology on the organization of work. As Andrew McAfee and colleagues argue in this study, the appropriate governance mechanism for an IT-facilitated collaboration depends on the type of IT being deployed: When an enterprise technology is required, so is an electronic hierarchy. The paper explores the issue of relationship specificity of IT assets, proposes a categorization of information technologies based on their levels of relationship specificity, and uses data from more than forty Italian industrial districts to test three hypotheses around governance of interfirm IT. These districts typically have close ties, both horizontal and vertical, and have historically worked in close collaboration with each other. Read More

A Perceptions Framework for Categorizing Inventory Policies in Single-stage Inventory Systems

In research surrounding inventory policies, there is a prevailing assumption of completely rational agents. In practice, however, deviations from the optimal policy abound, and analytical models to understand the effects of inventory dynamics on practice may require ways to model these deviations. Modeling deviations from the optimal policy is also important for better understanding inventory systems and supply chains. The term "perceptions" in Watson's research is not meant in its conventional sense, as in the perceptions of individual managers, but rather forms the basis for a framework for modeling and categorizing a range of inventory policies, including optimal inventory policy. This paper, which is a technical article meant more for an academic audience, explores the usefulness of his framework for categorizing the range of inventory policies that can be employed in a single-stage supply chain. Read More

Managing Functional Biases in Organizational Forecasts: A Case Study of Consensus Forecasting in Supply Chain Planning

By their very nature, consensus forecasts contain subjective elements that can compromise forecast accuracy. In this case study of the implementation of a sales and operations planning process in a consumer electronics company, Oliva and Watson studied the organizational and political dimensions of forecast generation and improvement. Ultimately, consensus forecasting constructively managed the influence of biases (such as overconfidence) on forecasts. Read More

Cross Functional Alignment in Supply Chain Planning: A Case Study of Sales & Operations Planning

Why do companies have such a hard time getting various functions to coordinate? Leitax, the pseudonym for a consumer electronics company studied by the authors, was suffering major supply-chain planning problems in 2002. The chief reason was typical to organizations: poor integration among the various functions. In response, the company introduced a system (rather than just a set of mechanisms) to better coordinate all processes and functions. The new system led to better collaboration from all participants, improved information-sharing, accurate and validated plans, and alignment in the execution of those plans. Read More

Capturing Benefits from Tomorrow’s Technology in Today’s Products: The Effect of Absorptive Capacity

It seems clear that firms with an existing R&D function are better able to use related outside research than firms without an R&D function. But can specific products also "absorb" a firm's knowledge of related technologies? Using patent data and the example of automobile carburetors, Daniel Snow studied how companies may adapt a component of a "radical innovation" technology for their own current-technology products. He also poses a far-reaching question for companies: Can they capture the returns of these inventive activities? Read More

The Strategic Way to Go to Market

Too often channel strategies develop at the last minute--when a product is ready to go to market. But this haphazard approach leaves a lot of efficiencies and synergies by the wayside, says V. Kasturi Rangan. Enter the concept of the "channel steward." Read More

American Auto’s Troubled Road

Harvard Business School faculty dissect where U.S. auto makers went wrong, and how they might again get on the road to growth. From HBS Alumni Bulletin. Read More

Has Globalization Reached Its Peak?

A new book argues that globalization has led corporations to outsource too much of their work and, more important, their intellectual capital. What with the increasing fluidity of labor markets, is it all too much for global managers to handle? Closed for comment; 26 Comments posted.

Information Technology Ecosystem Health and Performance

An IT ecosystem is "the network of organizations that drives the creation and delivery of information technology products and services." To understand the health and well being of the IT industry in the context of an ecosystem, the authors looked at three crucial IT ecosystem metrics: productivity, robustness, and innovation. Read More

Behavioral Operations

Organizations often commit to more product development projects than they can handle. And while people do not always behave rationally, most research on operations management still assumes they do. This paper explores theoretical and practical ways to study the effects of behavior and cognition on operations. Read More

What Really Drives Your Strategy?

For better or worse, why do so many companies veer off their strategic plan? Look for a disconnect between strategy and how resources are allocated, say Harvard Business School’s Joseph L. Bower and Clark G. Gilbert. Read More

The Truck Driver Who Reinvented Shipping

Malcolm P. McLean (1914-2001) hit on an idea to dramatically reduce labor and dock servicing time. An excerpt from In Their Time: The Greatest Business Leaders of the Twentieth Century by Harvard Business School's Anthony J. Mayo and Nitin Nohria. Read More

Why IT Matters in Midsized Firms

What does IT actually contribute to a business? Is IT a commodity like electricity or is it a crucial element of competitive advantage? In a study of over 600 medium-sized global firms to analyze the business benefits that IT can enable, the authors found that IT capability was key to profitable business growth. This was true in both the U.S. product and services sectors as well as in Germany and Brazil. Read More

The Motion Picture Industry: Critical Issues in Practice, Current Research & New Research Directions

This paper reviews research and trends in three key areas of movie making: production, distribution, and exhibition. In the production process, the authors recommend risk management and portfolio management for studios, and explore talent compensation issues. Distribution trends show that box-office performance will increasingly depend on a small number of blockbusters, advertising spending will rise (but will cross different types of media), and the timing of releases (and DVDs) will become a bigger issue. As for exhibiting movies, trends show that more sophisticated exhibitors will emerge, contractual changes between distributor and exhibitors will change, and strategies for tickets prices may be reevaluated. Read More

How an Order Views Your Company

HBS Professors Benson Shapiro and Kash Rangan bring us up to date on their pioneering research that helped ignite today’s intense focus on the customer. The key? Know your order cycle management. Read More

Real Estate: The Most Imperfect Asset

Real estate is the largest asset class in the world—and also the most imperfect, says Harvard Business School professor Arthur Segel. He discusses trends toward institutionalization, environmentalism, and globalization. Read More

What Drives Supply Chain Behavior?

Surprise: Managers are not always rational decision makers. In this interview, professors Rogelio Oliva and Noel Watson discuss how human behavior affects supply chain coordination. Read More

Operations and the Competitive Edge

Many managers expect operations organizations to fulfill only a support role. But an effective operations strategy can give you a competitive advantage. An interview with professor Robert Hayes. Read More

How Should We Think About the Exportation of Jobs?

It looks like productivity increases in the U.S. are accommodating growth with little increase in the number of jobs. Doesn’t it suggest that the jobs that people do hold must be getting better? Closed for comment; 19 Comments posted.

Time-Driven Activity-Based Costing

Activity-based costing (ABC) has become popular in business writing and management circles. (An example of an activity would be process customer complaints.) However, calculating baselines for activities, developing the model, and retesting the model once it is implemented is time-consuming and costly. Kaplan and Anderson developed improvements in the process through what they call time-driven ABC. Time-driven ABC decreases the amount of data needed, and only requires estimates of two things: (1) the practical capacity of committed resources and their cost, and (2) unit times for performing transactional activities. Read More

Why IT Does Matter

HBS professors F. Warren McFarlan and Richard L. Nolan respond to the much-discussed assertion by Nicholas Carr that company investments in IT are less and less likely to produce competitive advantage. Read More

Building a Better Buyer-Seller Relationship

How do you turn short-term transactions into long-term relationships? Harvard Business School professor Narakesari Narayandas finds answers in mature industrial markets. Read More

Incentives and Operational Excellence

Operational problems are a drag on business and often can be traced to poor controls in interorganizational settings, says HBS professor V.G. Narayanan. Here are his suggestions for tightening up those controls. Read More

Supply Chain Risk: Deal With It

Suddenly your supply chain is full of weak links, everything from terrorism to political instability to dock strikes. Could you and your customers withstand a disruption? Read More

Should Global Business Initiatives Be Devalued?

Are executives who ask this question overreacting to current events? Or, if the current geopolitical events are merely symptoms of a greater and longer struggle, should we begin to think about devaluing, discounting, or postponing global initiatives in favor of more predictable business investments "closer to home"? Closed for comment; 11 Comments posted.

The Future of IT Consulting

A new Harvard Business School working paper traces the evolution of IT management consulting and trends for the future. Read our e-mail interview with professor Richard Nolan and HBS Interactive Senior Vice President Larry Bennigson. Read More

Partnering and the Balanced Scorecard

Created in 1992, the Balanced Scorecard has become an effective tool for managing strategy. Now authors Robert S. Kaplan and David P. Norton propose using it to communicate values and vision to employees and partners. The payoff? Better strategic relationships with partners. Read More

The Parable of the Bungled Baggage And the Unhappy Customer

Sometimes a seemingly harmless corporate decision such as a budget trim can lead to big problems elsewhere. HBS professor W. Earl Sasser tells what happens when budget constraints and customers collide. Read More

In the Virtual Dressing Room Returns Are A Real Problem

That little red number looked smashing onscreen, but the puce caftan the delivery guy brought is just one more casualty of the online shopping battle. HBS professor Jan Hammond researches what the textile and apparel industries can do to curtail returns. Read More

How Toyota Turns Workers Into Problem Solvers

Toyota's reputation for sustaining high product quality is legendary. But the company's methods are not secret. So why can't other carmakers match Toyota's track record? HBS professor Steven Spear says it's all about problem solving. Read More

Wrapping Your Alliances In a World Wide Web

HBS professor Andrew McAfee researches how the Internet affects manufacturing and productivity and how business can team up to get the most out of technology. Read More

Control Your Inventory in a World of Lean Retailing

"Manufacturers of consumer goods are in the hot seat these days," the authors of this Harvard Business Review article remind readers. But there is no need to surrender to escalating costs of inventories. In this excerpt, they describe one new way to help lower inventory costs. Read More

Moving from Supply Chains to Supply Networks

Dramatic change is taking place in today's supply chain, say HBS professors Ananth Raman and Roy Shapiro, and it's up to the general manager to assemble a team that can implement the new principles and practices the change requires. Read More

Rocket Science Retailing

Retailers and e-tailers have enormous amounts of data available to them today. But to take advantage of that data they need to move toward a new kind of retailing, one that blends the instinct and intuition of traditional systems with the prowess of information technology. Read More

Whence IT Value?

Spending on information technology on the part of U.S. manufacturers is finally starting to pay off in increased productivity. Why now? Have IT investments, growing steadily since the 1970s, suddenly crossed a magic threshhold? HBS Professor Andrew McAfee believes the answer lies neither in magic nor in the growing power of computers themselves. Productivity gains, he writes in this article from the online journal Exec, may have more to do with the evolution of computing from PC "islands" to integrated networks that bridge distances and bring people together. Read More

Building Effective R&D Capabilities Abroad

Planning R&D facilities in the new global economy calls for a complex decision making process, based in part on whether a particular site is intended to tap local knowledge or to support a company's manufacturing and marketing abroad. HBS Professor Walter Kuemmerle offers a look at two contrasting foreign-based R&D decisions in this excerpt from his article in World View: Global Strategies for the New Economy (HBS Press). Read More

Rapid Response: Inside the Retailing Revolution

A simple bar code scan at your local department store today launches a whirlwind of action: data is transmitted about the color, the size, and the style of the item to forecasters and production planners; distributors and suppliers are informed of the demand and the possible need to restock. All in the blink of an electronic eye. It wasn’t always this way, though. HBS Professor Janice Hammond has focused her recent research on the transformation of the apparel and textile industries from the classic, limited model to the new lean inventories and flexible manufacturing capabilities. Read More

Decoding the DNA of the Toyota Production System

How can one production operation be both rigidly scripted and enormously flexible? In this summary of an article from the Harvard Business Review, HBS Professors H. Kent Bowen and Steven Spear disclose the secret to Toyota's production success. The company's operations can be seen as a continuous series of controlled experiments: whenever Toyota defines a specification, it is establishing a hypothesis that is then tested through action. The workers, who have internalized this scientific-method approach, are stimulated to respond to problems as they appear; using data from the strictly defined experiment, they are able to adapt fluidly to changing circumstances. Read More