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“The map is not the territory”: a boundary objects perspective on supply chain mapping

Nathalie Fabbe-Costes (CRET-LOG Research Centre, Aix-Marseille Université, Aix-en-Provence, France)
Lucie Lechaptois (CRET-LOG Research Centre, Aix-Marseille Université, Aix-en-Provence, France) (Department of Supply Chain, Renault SA, Guyancourt, France)
Martin Spring (Department of Management Science, Lancaster University Management School, Lancaster, UK)

International Journal of Operations & Production Management

ISSN: 0144-3577

Article publication date: 7 July 2020



To empirically examine the usefulness and value of supply chain mapping (SC mapping), which has been neglected despite its importance in research and practice.


Based on three combined theoretical perspectives, we conducted a case study on a car manufacturer's managers mapping their downstream supply chain (SC). We conducted semi-structured interviews and a mapping exercise with them, followed by a focus group.


We find differences between individual and corporate SC maps and between how managers define the outbound SC, the SC map they draw and what they say when mapping. The three theoretical perspectives allow us to enrich SC mapping thinking. We focus on boundary objects to formulate propositions. SC mapping and maps are discussed with respect to contemporary SCs and SCM.

Research limitations/implications

Based on a single case study on one firm's outbound SC. Research could be expanded to the company's external partners and follow the development and use of maps in real time.

Practical implications

Highlights the usefulness and difficulties of SC mapping, for individuals and organisations. For the company, it opens avenues for further development and use of SC mapping to improve inter-functional and inter-organisational collaboration.

Social implications

Confirms the need for SC mapping competences in SCM and consequently the usefulness of teaching SC mapping courses in logistics and SCM programs.


Highlights the usefulness of SC mapping and rekindles interest in SC mapping and maps in SCM. Introduces boundary objects into SCM research.



We would like to thank Renault Group for supporting this research and for making data and persons available for this particular study, which is part of a larger research project supported financially by ANRT (CIFRE no 2018/1125). We also want to thank Jean-François Lomellini (Head of New Vehicle Distribution, Supply Chain Department, Alliance Renault – Nissan, Guyancourt, France) for his support and facilitation during this study and the managers who took part in it. Special thanks to Andrew Beresford for the copy-editing of the first submitted version of the article. We are grateful to the Guest Editors and two anonymous reviewers for their insightful comments and advice. All remaining errors are ours.


Fabbe-Costes, N., Lechaptois, L. and Spring, M. (2020), "“The map is not the territory”: a boundary objects perspective on supply chain mapping", International Journal of Operations & Production Management, Vol. 40 No. 9, pp. 1475-1497.



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