Theory Development in Operations Management: Extending the Frontiers of a Mature Discipline via Qualitative Research


  • I thank my colleagues Tobias Schoenherr, Brian Jacobs, and especially, Sriram Narayanan for a careful reading of an earlier version of the paper and offering useful suggestions for improvement.


This invited paper discusses theory development in operations management. Many stellar researchers have made excellent contributions to theory development in our field. Operations management is a maturing discipline. Recently, theory driven empirical research has become common in top-tier journals in our field. Impelled by this trend and due to the path dependency of research, in general, researchers have examined operations phenomena using theories from management and organizational science. How do we extend the frontiers of knowledge in our maturing discipline? How do we develop theories within the field of operations management? In examining some of the seminal ideas that have shaped our field, a common characteristic is that they relied on observational studies and conceptual reasoning. Is it time for us to stress the usefulness of qualitative research methods in our field? Could this lead to an intellectual renewal in our field and extend the frontier of a maturing discipline? This paper explores these questions and advances the notion that qualitative analysis needs to be emphasized more than it has been in recent past. This paper is meant to provoke discussion among empirical researchers in operations management.