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Supply chain evolution – theory, concepts and science

Bart L. MacCarthy (Business School, University of Nottingham, Nottingham, UK)
Constantin Blome (School of Business, Management and Economics, University of Sussex, Brighton, UK)
Jan Olhager (Department of Industrial Management and Logistics, Lund University, Lund, Sweden)
Jagjit Singh Srai (Centre for International Manufacturing, University of Cambridge, Cambridge, UK)
Xiande Zhao (Department of Operations and Supply Chain Management, China Europe International Business School, Shanghai, China)

International Journal of Operations & Production Management

ISSN: 0144-3577

Article publication date: 5 December 2016




Supply chains evolve and change in size, shape and configuration, and in how they are coordinated, controlled and managed. Some supply chains are mature and relatively unchanging. Some are subject to significant change. New supply chains may emerge and evolve for a variety of reasons. The purpose of this paper is to examine the nature of supply chain evolution and address the question “What makes a supply chain like it is?”


The paper analyses and develops key aspects, concepts and principal themes concerning the emergence and evolution of supply chains over their lifecycle.


The paper defines the supply chain lifecycle and identifies six factors that interact and may affect a supply chain over its lifecycle – technology and innovation, economics, markets and competition, policy and regulation, procurement and sourcing, supply chain strategies and re-engineering. A number of emergent themes and propositions on factors affecting a supply chain’s characteristics over its lifecycle are presented. The paper argues that a new science is needed to investigate and understand the supply chain lifecycle.

Practical implications

Supply chains are critical for the world economy and essential for modern life. Understanding the supply chain lifecycle and how supply chains evolve provides new perspectives for contemporary supply chain design and management.


The paper presents detailed analysis, critique and reflections from leading researchers on emerging, evolving and mature supply chains.



MacCarthy, B.L., Blome, C., Olhager, J., Srai, J.S. and Zhao, X. (2016), "Supply chain evolution – theory, concepts and science", International Journal of Operations & Production Management, Vol. 36 No. 12, pp. 1696-1718.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2016, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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