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Flexibility and agility: evolution and relationship

Bouchra Abdelilah (National School of Applied Sciences of Agadir, Ibn Zohr University, Agadir, Morocco)
Akram El Korchi (National School of Applied Sciences of Agadir, Ibn Zohr University, Agadir, Morocco)
Mohammed Amine Balambo (Faculty of Economic and Social Juridical Sciences, Ibn Tofail University, Kenitra, Morocco)

Journal of Manufacturing Technology Management

ISSN: 1741-038X

Article publication date: 22 June 2018

Issue publication date: 1 August 2018

3017

Abstract

Purpose

The purpose of this paper is to clarify the confusion between flexibility and agility. The paper traces the evolution of agility and the evolution of flexibility over time, analyses their drivers and different elements, draws the boundaries between them and defines their relationship.

Design/methodology/approach

A systematic literature review of flexibility and agility was developed. Papers written between 1920 and 2017 were reviewed and analyzed using a structured review technique. The identified papers focus on flexibility and agility, relating both to manufacturing and the supply chain.

Findings

Agility is the natural evolution of flexibility. Until the 1990s, the term “flexibility” was used to refer to agility, but, because of market changes, competitiveness and the need for speed, the term “agility” was coined. While flexibility is considered as an operational ability, agility is a strategic ability that enables a firm to establish a strategic long-term vision. In fact, flexibility is an agility capability, among other capabilities such as responsiveness or speed. There are also several types of flexibility that are used as agility sub-capabilities, or as agility enablers, which further confirms the idea that flexibility is a part of agility.

Research limitations/implications

This research is a systematic review of the existing literature on the concepts of flexibility and agility. Although it is theoretical, it could provide a set of hypotheses that would enable an empirical study to be conducted into how firms from different industries perceive flexibility and agility and how they implement each of them.

Originality/value

Flexibility and agility are two distinct characteristics that enable a firm to gain a competitive advantage by responding quickly and effectively to changing customer demand. However, there is confusion between these two concepts in the academic and professional literature, with both terms being used to refer to the same idea. Our literature review aims to draw the boundaries between flexibility and agility by analyzing the evolution of the two concepts and detailing their respective drivers and elements, in order to bring more clarity to the nature of the relationship between flexibility and agility.

Keywords

Citation

Abdelilah, B., El Korchi, A. and Balambo, M.A. (2018), "Flexibility and agility: evolution and relationship", Journal of Manufacturing Technology Management, Vol. 29 No. 7, pp. 1138-1162. https://doi.org/10.1108/JMTM-03-2018-0090

Publisher

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Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2018, Emerald Publishing Limited

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