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Case research in operations management
Chris Voss, Nikos Tsikriktsis and Mark Frohlich
London Business School, London, UK
Keywords Operations management, Research, Methodology, Case studies Abstract This paper reviews the use of case study research in operations management for theory development and testing. It draws on the literature on case research in a number of disciplines and uses examples drawn from operations management research. It provides guidelines and a roadmap for operations management researchers wishing to design, develop and conduct case-based research.
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Introduction Case research has consistently been one of the most powerful research methods in operations management, particularly in the development of new theory. This is particularly true in today’s environment. To cope with the growing frequency and magnitude of changes in technology and managerial methods, operations management researchers have been calling for greater employment of field-based research methods (Lewis, 1998). Pure case research, that is research based on analysis of a limited number of cases to which, at best, only limited statistical analysis can be applied, is widely used in Europe but is less common in North American operations management (Drejer et al., 1998). Pannirselvan et al. (1999) reported case study and field study research accounted for 4.94 per cent and 3.80 per cent respectively of published papers. However, there are an increasing number of case research based papers appearing. There are several challenges in conducting case research: it is time consuming, it needs skilled interviewers, care is needed in drawing generalisable conclusions from a limited set of cases and in ensuring rigorous research. Despite this, the results of case research can have very high impact. Unconstrained by the rigid limits of questionnaires and models, it can lead to new and creative insights, development of new theory, and have high validity with practitioners ± the ultimate user of research. Through triangulation with multiple means of data collection, the validity can be increased further. Many of the breakthrough concepts and theories in operations management, from lean production to manufacturing strategy, have been developed through field case research. Finally, case research enriches not only theory, but also the researchers themselves. Through conducting research in the field and being exposed to real problems, the creative insights of people at all levels of organisations, and the varied contexts of cases, the individual researcher will personally benefit from the process of conducting the research. Increasingly new ideas are being developed, not by distant academics, but by those working in close contact with multiple case studies ± management consultants! It is
International Journal of Operations & Production Management, Vol. 22 No. 2, 2002, pp. 195-219. # MCB UP Limited, 0144-3577 DOI 10.1108/01443570210414329
important that case research is conducted and published because it is not only good at investigating how and why questions, but also it is particularly suitable for developing new theory and ideas and can also be used for theory testing and refinement. It is also important that case research is conducted well, so that the results are both rigorous and relevant. Case research is not an excuse for ``industrial tourism’’ ± visiting lots of organisations without any preconceived ideas as to what is being researched. As Drejer et al. (1998) point out, operations management differs from most other areas of management research, in that it addresses both the physical and human elements of the organisation, e.g. Hayes and Wheelwright’s (1984) structural and infrastructural elements of...
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