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Publisher : Elsevier - Science Direct (الزویر - ساینس دایرکت)
Journal : Journal of Operations Management, Volume 24, Issue 3, April 2006, Pages 250–270
The extant literature on the focused factory has not explored the contingencies associated with the de facto adoption and use of focused factory principles: Why are some plants focused while others are not? Is focus—or unfocus—a strategic choice, best practice or perhaps a reflection of an environmental constraint? In his pioneering work, Skinner [W. Skinner, 1974. The focused factory. Harvard Business Review 52 (3), 113–121] prescribes companies to ensure that the manufacturing task of their manufacturing units is simple and focused, for instance, by assigning a narrow product mix for each factory or concentrating on a narrow mix of production technologies. Especially in the absence of compelling empirical evidence on the effectiveness of the focused factory approach, we argue that we still do not understand why some plants may remain unfocused. We observe that in the international process industry case examined in this paper, some factories are unfocused and their manufacturing tasks are all but simple. Yet, some of them appear to be high performers. This presents an opportunity to seek empirical insight on the questions raised above. Specifically, we examine why manufacturing companies in the process industries may or may not follow the focused factory strategy. Our results suggest that in certain operating environments and with certain competitive strategies, choosing not to focus the manufacturing task should be viewed as a viable alternative manufacturing strategy, perhaps even a constraint imposed by the operating environment. We develop four contingency propositions to explain why focused manufacturing strategy may not be desirable or even possible.
The contention in this paper is that even though we have talked about the focused factory for 35 years ( Hayes et al., 2005 and Skinner, 1969), we still do not adequately understand its application in the industry (e.g., Skinner, 1996). Our goal is to build through an international case study an understanding of why factories in the process industries may or may not be focused. In so doing, we seek insight that explains the real-life phenomenon, and for this purpose the case study is the appropriate approach (Meredith, 1998, p. 442). The key question we seek to answer is: “Under what kinds of business environmental and strategic circumstances are focused manufacturing strategies viable in the process industries?” Specifically, we examine the effects of competitive business strategy, uncertainty in the operating environment, and production technology and how they affect manufacturing strategies in the process industry. 1.1. Focused factory in the extant literature Discussion on the focused factory started in 1969, when Skinner (1969, p. 137) described in his seminal paper an electronics manufacturer that served a heterogeneous customer base in three industries. The three customers had different expectations: one emphasized low costs, the second product reliability, and the third fast new product introduction. Yet, the company had decided to serve all markets from a single factory. This, Skinner argued, was an unfocused factory par excellence, which from a normative point of view is bad manufacturing strategy. Skinner (1969, p. 137) further pointed out that the company in his example was trying to reap in economies of scale (or perhaps more appropriately economies of scope, see Panzar and Willig, 1981) by serving multiple markets from a single factory. But is this all there is to it? Do companies really make seemingly bad policy decisions in attempts to economize on scale or scope? Is it still the case 35 years later, and in countries other than the U.S.? Is focus unconditionally good manufacturing policy? Instead of assuming this to be the case, we submit it to research as an open empirical question. Skinner's example is neither an isolated event nor merely an historical anecdote: time and again, we witness that some factories remain unfocused in the sense that they try to achieve multiple goals at the same time (Boyer et al., 1996 and Ketokivi and Schroeder, 2004) and produce a wide variety of different products for heterogeneous markets. Indeed, Skinner himself concluded based on empirical evidence from the 1960s and 1970s that “focused manufacturing plants are surprisingly rare” (Skinner, 1974, p. 114). In a more recent study, Vokurka and Davis (2000) provide large-sample evidence by observing that 78 of the plants in their sample of 305 plants were unfocused.1 They also make an interesting observation, which is relevant to this study: the ratio of focused to non-focused plants varies by industry; plants in typical process industries (chemicals, paper, primary metals) tend to be more focused (78% of factories were focused) than discrete-part manufacturers (machinery 58%, electronics 61%). Collins et al. (1998), in turn, observe that there are some country differences in the adoption of their rigid flexibility model, a derivative of Skinner's focused factory. Extant theoretical and empirical work on focus does not explain these country and industry effects, or the antecedents of focus in general. While focused factories have been empirically examined from a content (e.g., Berry et al., 1991, Bozarth, 1993, Pesch, 1996 and Pesch and Schroeder, 1996) and especially performance perspectives (Bozarth and Edwards, 1997, Brush and Karnani, 1996, New and Szwejczewski, 1995 and Safizadeh et al., 1996), these studies have not sought an understanding of why plants are or are not focused. Also, Vokurka and Davis (2000, p. 44) appropriately point out that “[l]ittle empirical support has been provided for the focused factory concept”. This observation in particular warrants more theoretical reflection and perhaps alternative theoretical formulations and empirical analyses. One interpretation of the lack of empirical support for the focused factory is that focused factory is not always the best strategy. Indeed, a careful reading of Skinner's seminal work suggests that focused factories are only possible strategy: “One way to compete is to focus the entire manufacturing system on a limited task precisely defined by the company's competitive strategy …” (Skinner, 1974, p. 119, emphasis added). Other scholars have explicitly argued that factories can be unfocused, but still be high performers (Hayes and Pisano, 1994, p. 81). Apparently, unfocus could be an intentional strategic choice, or perhaps a choice that reflects the specific requirements of the business environment: especially uncertain and fast-changing business environments may require the use of less focused and specialized strategies. Indeed, one of the central arguments in the population ecology literature is that so-called generalist strategies—where, among other things, the company offers a wide variety of products to its customer base—are more effective in uncertain environments (Freeman and Hannan, 1983). A number of operations strategy scholars have also observed generalist strategies in the manufacturing strategy context, both in terms of emphasizing multiple competitive priorities ( Boyer et al., 1996 and Ketokivi and Schroeder, 2004) as well as offering a broad line of products (Kekre and Srinivasan, 1990). These observations are clearly at odds with the conventional views of focus ( Hayes and Wheelwright, 1984 and Skinner, 1969). The focus–performance studies and theories concentrate primarily on the performance consequences of focus (e.g., Bozarth and Edwards, 1997). However, an examination and theory of the antecedents or determinants of focus is needed to understand the phenomenon at hand. Interestingly, Bozarth and Edwards (1997, p. 178) argue that choosing not to focus may indeed be a conscious strategic move, or that companies may find themselves in a temporary state of non-focus as they make a transition into a new strategy. Also, Schmenner (1983, p. 127) notes, from a descriptive point of view, that older plants tend to be unfocused in the sense that they have, on average, a higher product mix. We submit that these are interesting phenomena that we do not adequately understand. In sum, although the normative manufacturing strategy literature prescribes factories to focus on one or two dimensions of performance by serving a narrow market niche or by producing a narrow mix of products (Skinner, 1969 and Wheelwright and Bowen, 1996), the reality in operations appears to be at times quite different: choosing or not choosing to focus may reflect constraints or opportunities posed by the operating environment. The central question then becomes: “Why are some factories focused while others are not?” Answering this question will enable a better understanding of de facto managerial decision-making, which is at least as important as being able to offer normative guidelines on how to make decisions (Cyert and March, 1992 ). Unfortunately, there is a considerable bias in the conceptual and empirical manufacturing strategy toward the normative, which may well hinder us from understanding what really happens in manufacturing companies. We submit that the phenomenon of why some plants are focused while others are not is not adequately understood, which may in part explain Skinner's (1996, p. 7) observation that not much has happened in the industry in terms of understanding and applying the tenets of manufacturing strategy in the industry in the 25 years following his seminal research at Harvard in the 1960s and the 1969 landmark article. 1.2. Focused factory in the process industry The focus in this special issue is the process industry, and the case study presented in this paper is also in a process industry context. Now, neither Skinner nor his followers have claimed that the focused factory is limited to certain types of manufacturing operations. The tenet that the manufacturing task be simple applies, at least in principle, equally to discrete and continuous manufacturing. We find the concept of the focused factory especially interesting in the process industry context for two interrelated reasons. First, process industries are comparatively more capital-intensive than discrete-part manufacturing (Cox and Blackstone, 2002). One direct implication of this is that the capacity utilization rate becomes more important as it correlates strongly with profitability. Second, product variety is comparatively lower than in discrete manufacturing, because process technology tends to be more dedicated to a narrow range of products (Hayes and Wheelwright, 1979). This makes the achievement of higher capacity utilization rates more challenging: alternative products to fill capacity may not exist during times of low demand. Further, product changeovers in manufacturing may be both time-consuming as well as expensive (Hill et al., 2000). When these two aspects of the process industry are examined in a contemporary process industry business environment, often characterized by volatile and unpredictable demand (Grant, 2003), the relevance of this discussion in the process industry becomes obvious: What are the manufacturing strategies available to process manufacturers today? Is the focused factory a viable strategy? At the same time, we do not wish to suggest that the process industry is monolithic and can be discussed and addressed as a single entity. We submit that it would be equally inappropriate to discuss discrete-part manufacturing as a homogeneous entity. Obviously, there are multiple process industries with their own idiosyncrasies. However, there are some general characteristics that process manufacturers share, which will be discussed in detail in this paper.
نتیجه گیری انگلیسی
We have taken the first steps toward a mid-range contingency theory of the focused factory in the context of the process industry by developing a set of four contingency propositions. The main contribution of this emerging theory is that it addresses one of the remaining gaps in the focused factory literature: Why do some plants remain unfocused? We point to strategic and business environmental contingencies, which have been largely neglected in earlier research on focus. Future research should further elaborate on these contingencies. We have also offered four propositions that can be empirically tested in large samples. This is another potential direction for future research. This paper has contributed to the manufacturing strategy literature by taking a systematic in-depth look at the determinants of manufacturing focus in a complex and dynamic business environment. In so doing, this study has complemented the extant research on focus has concentrated largely on the content of focus as well as its performance implications. Earlier contributions, while certainly valuable and at the same time important foundations for this paper, are limited in helping us understand the phenomenon that provided the impetus for this paper. The main propositions arising from our theory is that there is a time and place for product-process focus in the process industries. Or perhaps a better way to express the result is that while focus seems to be associated with higher performance, it is not always the best strategy; there are other viable alternatives. Further, the corporation should not impose a single manufacturing strategy to be executed in all its manufacturing units, because the environmental and strategic contingencies faced by different plants are not identical. We argue that these issues have not received enough attention in the extant literature, and they should further be examined in empirical research. The case company in this study has both very focused as well as unfocused plants; we should not readily assume that staying unfocused is bad strategy. Staying unfocused may indeed be a conscious strategic choice that helps cushion environmental turbulence in times of rapid change, and unfocused strategies may well be more useful in executing specific competitive strategies. We find a great wisdom in the words of Plant B's plant manager: “Our goal is not to make complex issues simple, rather, our goal is to make complexity manageable by building flexibility into our production systems.”