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The meaning of Operations Management in professional services: an interpretative study of productivity and identity

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Wednesday 11 March 2009, 13:00
LT2, Management School

A Joint Marketing & Management Science Research Seminar with Prof. Mike Lewis, Bath School of Management

"The meaning of Operations Management in professional services: an interpretative study of productivity and identity in a law firm"


Professional Services occupy a central role in advanced economies and yet specific understanding of Operations Management (OM) as applied to the Professional Service Organization (PSO) remains underdeveloped. The OM logic has long been applied to service settings but predominantly in those sectors where the production line metaphor holds (i.e. fast food restaurants, supermarkets). The limited PSO-specific OM literature that does exist (e.g. Goodale et al. 2008, Harvey 1989, 1990, 1992) only reinforces the sense that the fourth quadrant of Schmenner's (1986) typology remains a challenging frontier for OM theory and practice. Consider for example how OM is typically concerned with meso-level constructs (e.g. process technology, business processes, performance measurement, etc.) and underplays the role of organisational and individual phenomena. This represents an analytical gap when seeking to understand what OM ‘means’ in settings where automation is relatively insignificant, managerial authority to define work structures is challenged by "servers" with individual authority and key performance outcomes are difficult to measure.
Set against this backdrop, this seminar will seek to explore novel OM-related insight into PSOs in two ways. Conceptually, it presents alternative theoretical resources for exploring how OM concerns relate to these “messy and ill defined” operations (Schmenner 2000). Specifically, in addition to Schmenner's notion of 'smooth, even flow', the work draws on a much broader range of management and organizational literatures in order to frame an exploration of PSO productivity. It proposes that such notions may be usefully examined as subjectively conceived narratives of individual and organizational identity constituted within discursive regimes (Alvesson and Willmott, 2002; Brown and Humphreys, 2006; Webb, 2006). Empirically, it will describe research based on an in-depth case study in a medium size law firm (LF). Although OM case research is not uncommon (Voss et al. 2002; McCutcheon and Meredith 1983), the atypical theoretical framing of the investigation suggested an in-depth interpretive single study, or ‘inquiry from the inside’ (Evered and Louis, 1981; Geertz, 1973). Law firms are a particularly interesting group for a discursive analysis of identity issues (cf. Alvesson, 2001; Journal of Management Studies, 1993) because they are themselves discursive economic entities - in the sense that lawyers provide professional services to clients in the form, and through the medium, of language - both verbal (e.g., defending/prosecuting in court) and written (e.g., contracts, wills).

Mike is Professor of Operations and Supply Management at Bath University School of Management and head of the Information, Decision and Operations Group. He teaches MBA, MSc and undergraduate courses in operations management, operations strategy and the management of technology and innovation. Prior to joining Bath, he was a senior lecturer in the Operations Management group at Warwick Business School, a research fellow in the Manufacturing Institute of the University of Cambridge and a visiting researcher in the Technology and Operations Management group of Harvard Business School. He spent 2001/2002 as a Visiting Professor at the McDonough School of Business, Georgetown University.
In addition to more than 50 academic and practitioner journal articles, he is co-author (with Nigel Slack) of Operations Strategy (2nd edition 2007, Financial Times Prentice-Hall) and co-editor of Critical Readings in Operations Management (2003, Routledge) and the Encyclopaedic Dictionary of Operations Management (Blackwell, 2005). He is a member of the editorial boards of various journals, including JOM, IJOPM, JPSM, etc.
Prof. Lewis has researched with, consulted for and provided executive education to a range of private and public sector organisations in the UK and the rest of Europe. Ongoing research projects include: (1) an investigation of how organisations procure, rather than produce, complex performance; (2) producing and procuring productive professional services; (3) the process of creating public value (focusing on process design, service charging and make versus buy decisions), and; (4) operations and procurement leadership.

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