Supply chain flexibility in an uncertain environment: Exploratory findings from five case studies

Candace Y. Yi, Wai Ting Ngai, K. L. Moon

Research output: Journal article publicationJournal articleAcademic researchpeer-review

136 Citations (Scopus)


Purpose: The objective of this paper is to illustrate and examine the different flexibility strategies adopted by supply chain participants as a result of different environmental uncertainties. Design/methodology/approach: An exploratory multi-case study, involving five Chinese companies in the textile and apparel industry, was conducted. Findings: The analysis, based on the supply chain literature, reveals that the unpredictable dynamics of the supply chain can arise from a variety of internal and external sources, including suppliers, operating systems, customers, and competitors. In response to the various environmental uncertainties and risks in the supply chain, four types of flexibility strategy are identified in our case analysis: laggard, conservative, agile, and aggressive. The results also suggest that the adoption of flexibility strategies should match a firm's business environment and that better supply chain responsiveness can be achieved in two ways: by reducing uncertainties and by improving supply chain flexibility. Research limitations/implications: The key limitation of the study is that it focuses solely on the textiles and clothing industry, which makes it difficult to generalize the results to other industries. Another difficulty arises from the subjective criteria employed in some constructs, such as the perceived aggressiveness of competition, the predictability of customer demand, and the designations of companies in the proposed strategy categories. Practical implications: The proposed theoretical framework can assist managers in properly diagnosing and deploying supply chain flexibility strategies. The actions identified for promoting supply chain flexibility can also be used to assess the various options for exploiting or acquiring flexibility strategies. Originality/value: Expanding on the previous research approach of examining flexibility strategies from the perspective of a single firm, this study draws on the multi-case approach to posit a series of propositions that link the adoption of specific supply chain flexibility strategies to various environmental conditions in a supply chain context and proposes a conceptual framework to illustrate how supply chain responsiveness can be improved in today's volatile market environment.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)271-283
Number of pages13
JournalSupply Chain Management
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2011


  • China
  • Garment industry
  • Managers
  • Supply chain management

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Strategy and Management


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