Activity Linking in Industrial Networks
Doctoral thesis, 2011
The ways in which industrial activities are undertaken and linked have profound implications for organizational performance. The linking of activities is therefore a phenomenon which, in various shapes and forms, has been of ample concern to both academic scholars and industrial practitioners. Recent developments of practice, such as just-in-time deliveries and build-to-order production, make activity linking increasingly significant. In addition, owing to enhanced outsourcing, activity linking increasingly crosses firm boundaries. The purpose of this thesis is to explore the basic principles for activity linking in the current industrial context.
The framework of the study builds on the Industrial Network Approach, distinguishing between three layers of business life: activities, resources and actors. The research questions derived from this approach concern (i) the interrelatedness between activity interdependencies and adjustments, (ii) the roles of enabling and object resources in the linking of activities, (iii) the roles of action, reaction and interaction in the linking of activities, and (iv) how interaction can be used in the analysis of the interplay between the actions and reactions of individual actors.
Empirically, the thesis consists of a single case study from the construction industry, with three embedded cases. The linking of activities in the cases is illustrated and investigated in terms of three central activity dimensions: activity configurations, activity structures and activity patterns. On the basis of this analysis, a conceptual scheme for the analysis of activity linking is developed. The tools in this scheme explore the connections between activities, resources and actors, as represented in the research questions. The scheme takes the individual activity as well as the links between activities into account, and applies both a structural (linking in space) and a dynamic perspective (linking in time).
The concluding discussion applies the tools in the conceptual scheme in order to analyse how adjustments propagate among activities in industrial networks. It thus discusses activity linking in both space and time, and in relation to resources and actors.