Journal of Operations Management 20 (2002) 419–433
Effective case research in operations management:
a process perspective
I. Stuart∗ , D. McCutcheon, R. Handﬁeld, R. McLachlin, D. Samson Faculty of Business, University of Victoria, P.O. Box 1700, Victoria, BC, Canada V8W 2Y2 Received 8 August 2001; received in revised form 26 October 2001; accepted 11 March 2002
Despite many calls for case-based operations management research, the successful publication rate of such articles in top-tier journals has been less than stellar. A ﬁve step case-based research and dissemination process is presented. Guidance is given to future researchers for each step in the process. In addition, areas of weakness are examined and discussed in detail. Future potential research questions in operations management considered to be appropriate for the case-based method are highlighted. © 2002 Elsevier Science B.V. All rights reserved.
Keywords: Case study research; Measurement and methodology
Despite numerous calls over the years for case
research (Meredith et al., 1989; Ebert, 1991;
McCutcheon and Meredith, 1993; Samson and
Terziovski, 1999; Meredith and Samson, 2001),
few case studies appear to be getting published in
the primary operations management (OM) research
journals. For example, Wacker (1998) assessed and
classiﬁed the predominant research methodology of
over 2000 OM articles published over the previous
5-year-period; only 8% of them were case-based
studies. A principal criticism from reviewers and associate editors is the papers’ lack of rigor in the case research process. Typically, a paper reports on a few
interactions with ﬁeld sites and then sums up the
observations and impressions, much as a consulting
report might summarize a team’s ﬁndings in a client
∗ Corresponding author. Tel.: +1-250-721-2414;
E-mail address: email@example.com (I. Stuart).
ﬁrm. Notably missing from the paper is a discussion
of what the goal of the research was beforehand, what
previous research work had been done in this and
related areas, what protocol was used, how the sites
were selected, what data were collected, how the data
were analyzed, and how the ﬁndings were validated.
In short, the criticisms point to fundamental weaknesses throughout the entire process of conducting case research, weaknesses that ultimately prove fatal
during the journal review process.
The aim of this paper is to address these weaknesses in several ways. First, we examine the process of conducting case research, from its theoretical foundations to the eventual dissemination of the research ﬁndings. Concurrently, we examine several sources of
common process errors with the hopes that, in future,
OM researchers can take preventive measures, improving both their case research and publication success. Finally, we identify several critical gaps in the OM
body of knowledge that appear likely candidates for
the case research method. Our aim is to encourage researchers to follow a line of scholastic inquiry with a
0272-6963/02/$ – see front matter © 2002 Elsevier Science B.V. All rights reserved. PII: S 0 2 7 2 - 6 9 6 3 ( 0 2 ) 0 0 0 2 2 - 0
I. Stuart et al. / Journal of Operations Management 20 (2002) 419–433
Fig. 1. The ﬁve stage research process model.
high degree of relevancy. By combining research relevancy with a more rigorous case research approach, future case research efforts should meet increased dissemination success. To start, we describe a generic model of the research process and use it to assess how
a case-based research approach should be followed.
2. The case research process
In spite of many publications describing case research (Glaser and Strauss, 1967; McCutcheon and Meredith, 1993; Eisenhardt, 1989; Lee, 1989;
Meredith, 1993, 1998; Yin, 1993, 1989), it still appears that the case research and publication process is not well understood.1...
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