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The implementation of supply chain management theory in practice: an empirical investigation

Edward Sweeney (Engineering Systems and Management (ESM) Group, Aston University, Birmingham, UK)
David B. Grant (Business School, University of Hull, Hull, UK)
D John Mangan (School of Marine Science and Technology, Newcastle University, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, UK)

Supply Chain Management

ISSN: 1359-8546

Article publication date: 12 January 2015




The purpose of the research described in this paper is to disentangle the rhetoric from the reality in relation to supply chain management (SCM) adoption in practice. There is significant evidence of a divergence between theory and practice in the field of SCM.


Based on a review of extant theory, the authors posit a new definitional construct for SCM – the Four Fundamentals – and investigated four research questions (RQs) that emerged from the theoretical review. The empirical work comprised three main phases: focussed interviews, focus groups and a questionnaire survey. Each phase used the authors’ definitional construct as its basis. While the context of the paper’s empirical work is Ireland, the insights and results are generalisable to other geographical contexts.


The data collected during the various stages of the empirical research supported the essence of the definitional construct and allowed it to be further developed and refined. In addition, the findings suggest that, while levels of SCM understanding are generally quite high, there is room for improvement in relation to how this understanding is translated into practice.

Research limitations/implications

Expansion of the research design to incorporate case studies, grounded theory and action research has the potential to generate new SCM theory that builds on the Four Fundamentals construct, thus facilitating a deeper and richer understanding of SCM phenomena. The use of longitudinal studies would enable a barometer of progress to be developed over time.

Practical implications

The authors’ definitional construct supports improvement in the cohesion of SCM practices, thereby promoting the effective implementation of supply chain strategies. A number of critical success factors and/or barriers to implementation of SCM theory in practice are identified, as are a number of practical measures that could be implemented at policy/supply chain/firm level to improve the level of effective SCM adoption.


The authors’ robust definitional construct supports a more cohesive approach to the development of a unified theory of SCM. In addition to a profile of SCM understanding and adoption by firms in Ireland, the related critical success factors and/or inhibitors to success, as well as possible interventions, are identified.



Sweeney, E., Grant, D.B. and Mangan, D.J. (2015), "The implementation of supply chain management theory in practice: an empirical investigation", Supply Chain Management, Vol. 20 No. 1, pp. 56-70.



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Copyright © 2015, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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