Manufacturing flexibility is a rather complex phenomenon that has been researchers for quite some time now. Regardless of a significant body of research available regarding this topic, the results are quite fragmented and specific to limited fields and types of industries. Since the phenomenon of manufacturing flexibility is relevant to every firm or organization involved in the production, a set of differentiated and generalizable characteristics is required for the researchers to be able to evaluate flexibility using tools and instruments universally applied in different fields.
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Koste, Malhotra, and Sharma took the responsibility of exploring the concept of flexibility, identifying its elements and aspects, and establishing measurement criteria suitable for the future researcher in this sphere.
In their article titled “Measuring dimensions of manufacturing flexibility”, Koste, Malhotra, and Sharma address the issues of flexibility in relation to the process of manufacturing (171). Manufacturing flexibility is the concept that attracts the attention of the researchers due to its positive impact on business competitiveness. However, the authors note that flexibility is not a homogenous phenomenon and needs to be explored in terms of its types and forms (Koste, Malhotra, and Sharma 171).
The authors distinguish between six different types of manufacturing flexibility and have a goal to determine the measurable and generalized criteria that would be applicable to all the types. This research is done for a purpose to understand better the concept of flexibility in manufacturing.
At the beginning of their study, the authors identify the primary issue that served the basis for their research – it is the subjectivity of the measuring criteria of the manufacturing flexibility (Koste, Malhotra, and Sharma 171). In other words, flexibility is measurable according to specifically developed determiners that are typical for certain kinds of industries only cannot be generalized. In the background section, the authors present the information they collected from the previous works and state that regardless of all the prior attempts to measure flexibility in manufacturing, the success of this undertaking was rather limited, and the findings or methods of the previous studies were not applicable to different environments or difficult to replicate (Koste, Malhotra, and Sharma 172).
The research was conducted in the form of the literature review that was designed for a purpose to identify the criteria for flexibility measurement as described in various studies. Also, some new criteria were proposed by the authors. Further, the research proceeded with a q-sort grouping technique to put together the criteria measuring the same or similar aspects. It was done in a form of a matching activity where the respondents had to connect the items with the descriptions of flexibility dimensions presented to them in a random manner (Koste, Malhotra, and Sharma 173). Afterward, the analysis evaluated the percentage of the correct connections made by the participants.
The study participants were sampled from the staff of manufacturing plants as the individuals familiar with the flexibility concept and its six dimensions outlined for the research. Namely, the top managers and executives of several manufacturing plants and firms were chosen as respondents because the research required that the respondents were very well-educated about the flexibility in manufacturing both practically and theoretically.
The collection and analysis of data involved a process of multiple steps that was complicated by the need to establish the validity of data on many levels (convergent, discriminant, predictive validity, and inter-rater agreement). In order to be able to draw comparisons in the results, the researchers created a differentiated scale. The authors also stated that the individual treatment of the flexibility dimensions was necessary due to its diverse nature and because the researchers found the unidimensional evaluation of the manufacturing flexibility highly vague and difficult to integrate (Koste, Malhotra, and Sharma 180).
The measurement properties of the six flexibility components were established by means of subdividing each of them into four elements. That way, the researchers identified many different and rather precise aspects of the manufacturing flexibility that are not only quite universal for different types of production and operation but also applicable for future empirical studies targeting flexibility and its measurements.
The article by Koste, Malhotra, and Sharma represents a significant body of work with a deep subject and substantial research to support it. The outlay of the article is clear and presents several sections with subsections that describe different stages of the research in detail. The numerical data is provided in tables for better clarity. Also, the elements and interconnections within the concept of the manufacturing flexibility are demonstrated in a form of graphs and schemes. Overall, the presentation of the study is clear and thorough.
Importance of the Research Topic
The research topic of this article is critical for the sphere of manufacturing because flexibility is one of the determinants of the competitiveness and success of the business. That is why the knowledge of this concept is crucial. Flexibility needs to be explored as a phenomenon for the organizations to know how to evaluate it, fix it, and stimulate it. The key elements and factors contributing to flexibility are to be discovered in order for the manufacturers to know how to regulate and control flexibility and thus increase productivity and success.
In addition, the topic chosen by Koste, Malhotra, and Sharma is one of the current subjects of interest that has not been researched enough. In their review of the literature, the authors specify that the substantial body of research that is available today does not provide differentiated and generalizable criteria for the evaluation and measuring of the manufacturing flexibility that would be applicable in various fields and specializations (Koste, Malhotra, and Sharma 171).
The authors take responsibility to design a complex research in order to do something that many scholars attempted previously and were unsuccessful. The authors explain that they understand the challenges of the proposed undertaking and bravely go through with it thoroughly describing and working out many steps and levels of the research (Koste, Malhotra, and Sharma 172). The importance of this subject is rather high because it creates a basis for future research.
With the help of the findings and a system created by Koste, Malhotra, and Sharma, the researchers are now able to explore the concept of manufacturing flexibility and achieve an even better understanding of its constituents. It is possible that the present design is imperfect, but the authors took risks and provided guidance for future improvements in this sphere of knowledge.
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Strengths and Weaknesses of the Methodologies
Koste, Malhotra, and Sharma offer a detailed explanation of each step of their research and present the descriptions of the processes of evaluation of different levels of validity in order to create a more or less universal set of criteria for the measurement of the manufacturing flexibility. The primary weakness of the methodology chosen by Koste, Malhotra, and Sharma is the inclusion of the participants whose knowledge of the researched concept cannot be assessed in a reliable manner.
Moreover, since the methodology is highly complex and multifaceted, the authors could not use too large a sample of respondents. The limited size of the group of participants is one of the main weaknesses of the methodology. Also, the authors do not specify what kinds of firms were represented in the sample and the type of manufacturing they specialized in. Besides, the research combines the criteria presented in the prior studies and those first offered by Koste, Malhotra, and Sharma.
That way, some of the criteria are more researched, tested, and reliable than the others. Besides, the research is highly time-consuming (but this weakness can be explained by the fact that this type of study is one of the pioneers of its kind, and the researchers did not have much background knowledge to rely on).
One of the major strengths of the methodology is how it is divided into tasks and subtasks so that all the required aspects are taken into consideration to ensure the highest possible level of reliability and validity. Since the research relies on the answers of the participants about the flexibility components, a great deal of assessment had to be done in order to establish whether or not the collected data can be used as a reliable source of knowledge. Besides, the research offers a framework for testing more dimensions and finding more elements of flexibility.
How It Can Be Extended/ Improved
In order to obtain a better knowledge of the concept of manufacturing flexibility, it could be extremely helpful to replicate the same research with a larger sample of participants representing the manufacturing firms of various specializations. The consistency of the results will indicate a high level of validity. Moreover, the connections between the flexibility elements established by Koste, Malhotra, and Sharma may be expanded when more participants are involved so that more key determinants of the phenomenon could be assessed as the criteria.
Also, the same criteria need to be tested in order for the researchers to work out a universal tool for the evaluation of the manufacturing flexibility. For that, smaller groups of participants representing separate firms could become the members of one study applying the same set of criteria in order to measure flexibility in different organizations and then compare the effectiveness of the instrument in different environments and fields. Moreover, the tests need to be conducted in order to assess the connections between the dimensions of flexibility and their elements. That way, it could be helpful to test different dimensions separately and deepen the knowledge of each of them.
The study by Koste, Malhotra, and Sharma explores a subject of great importance – the manufacturing flexibility, a concept that is recognized as one of the key indicators determining the competitiveness of the manufacturing firms. The authors work out and begin testing a set of six dimensions subdivided into twenty-four elements of flexibility and that way, offer a framework for measuring flexibility that is currently in its initial stage of development, but can be advanced via further research, application, and testing.
Koste, Lori L., Manoj K. Malhotra, and Subhash Sharma. “Measuring dimensions of manufacturing flexibility.” Journal of Operations Management 22 (2004): 171–196. Print.