Toward a Theory of Behavioral Operations

by Francesca Gino & Gary Pisano

Overview — 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. Key concepts include:

  • A behavioral approach to operations management can lead to a better understanding of underlying drivers of operating systems performance and also to a better understanding of puzzling "pathologies" such as excess inventory, late product development projects, and overcommitment to research and development projects.
  • A behavioral perspective can lead to better identification of appropriate management interventions.

Author Abstract

Human beings are critical to the functioning of the vast majority of operating systems, influencing both the way these systems work and how they perform. Yet most formal analytical models of operations assume that the people who participate in operating systems are fully rational or at least can be induced to behave rationally. Many other disciplines, including economics, finance, and marketing, have successfully incorporated departures from this rationality assumption into their models and theories. In this paper, we argue that operations management scholars should do the same. We highlight initial studies that have adopted a "behavioral operations perspective" and explore the theoretical and practical implications of incorporating behavioral and cognitive factors into models of operations. Specifically, we address three questions: 1) What is a behavioral perspective on operations? 2) What might be the intellectual added value of such a perspective? 3) What are the basic elements of behavioral operations research?

Paper Information