Linking enterprise flexibility to strategic options: A control problem approach

*Franco F. Yanine
*PhD student of Engineering Sciences-Mention in Automation, University of
Santiago, USACH. Nov. 2007
Abstract- In order to operate effectively manufacturing enterprises must be able to coordinate and
utilize their limited physical and managerial resources effectively in an effort to deal with
uncertainty and complexity, following certain strategic enterprise guidelines. Manufacturing
enterprises must be able to acknowledge the tensions between flexibility and stability forces
operating within them, and then manage them in a way that best reflects their strategic options.
This paper looks at manufacturing enterprises as complex, dynamic systems which ought to operate
under certain strategic guidelines and constraints in order to be both effective and efficient, and at
the same time, ought to be flexible enough to be able to deal effectively with perturbations,
generated both within and outside the system, which affect the enterprise system differently, in
order to guarantee, on the one hand, effectiveness and stability of operations, and the achievement
of enterprise strategic objectives on the other.
In this control problem approach to enterprise flexibility we go to a higher level and examine how
both properties, flexibility and stability, depend on what we call the metacontrollability of the
enterprise system, that is the control of the very enterprise control system, the role of management
in the metacontrollability of the enterprise, and how these control actions, which determine when,
where and how much flexibility is applied, are linked to specific strategic needs and objectives that
reflect the strategic options of the enterprise, which in turn must be part of the enterprise strategic
framework at the operational, business, and corporate level respectively.
Keywords: Control system, Metacontrollability; Change and Flexibility; Stability;
Strategic options; performance measurement
In order to operate effectively, manufacturing enterprises must be able to coordinate and
utilize their limited physical and managerial resources to deal with uncertainty and
complexity, following certain strategic enterprise guidelines. Manufacturing enterprises
must be able to acknowledge the tensions between flexibility and stability forces operating
within them, and then manage them in a way that best reflects their strategic options.
This paper looks at manufacturing enterprises as complex; dynamic systems which need to
operate under certain strategic guidelines and constraints and, at the same time, ought to be
flexible enough to deal effectively with perturbations, generated both within and outside
the system, which affect the system differently. In order to guarantee on the one hand
effectiveness and stability of operations and, on the other hand, the achievement of the
enterprise strategic objectives, we can think of the manufacturing enterprise as a dynamic
system in constant need of control, coping with both the need to be flexible and malleable
in order to change and adjust itself in different orders of magnitude and frequency upon
requirements being impressed upon it, and at the same time, the need to be robust and
steadfast in order to maintain order and regularity of operations, in order for the system to
hold itself together even when it is called upon to act in such a way as to push itself to the
This control system and its hierarchy, which we will explain later, are in turn responsible
for controlling the behavior and performance of the enterprise system at every level,
accounting for and managing the stability and flexibility requirements that arouse within
the system continuously as operations go on in the every day life of the enterprise. In our
control system approach to enterprise flexibility, we view flexibility and stability as
desired properties of the manufacturing enterprise and both are equally important and
necessary for the enterprise system to be viable.
We will define now what we mean by Flexibility and Stability, as desired properties or
qualities of the enterprise system.
Flexibility: it is first of all the capacity of an enterprise to respond to change. It is also the
property of an enterprise system to be malleable and capable of adjustment in order to
change and accommodate its operations to scenarios or environments other than those for
which it was specifically designed. The need for flexibility arises when the enterprise
system is faced with requirements which are exerted upon it which demand actions that go
beyond the scope of its regular operations environment. The flexibility of a system may
also be viewed as the capacity of an enterprise system to be managed or controlled
successfully in order to meet its objectives, being capable of withstanding stress and strain
without causing significant cost or any other type of impair or prejudice to the enterprise.
Stability: it is, on the other hand, the quality or attribute of an enterprise system of being
firm and steadfast in maintaining regularity of operations even upon extreme conditions. It
may also be viewed as the quality or property of an enterprise to preserve its equilibrium
when undisturbed (or only slightly disturbed) but able to pass to a more stable equilibrium
when sufficiently disturbed. In sum we may say that stability is the quality or property of
an enterprise system to maintain its course in spite of forces acting upon it. This of course
means that the enterprise is capable of maintaining its course and regularity even after
incurring in major adjustments to withstand change.
In this control problem approach to enterprise flexibility we go to a higher level and
examine how both properties, flexibility and stability, depend on what we call the
metacontrollability of the enterprise system, the role of management in the
metacontrollability of the enterprise, and how these control actions, which determine when,
where and how much flexibility is needed at any one time, are linked to specific strategic
needs and objectives, which are part of the enterprise strategic framework at the
operational, business, and corporate levels respectively.
It is management the one which is called upon to establish the right balance between
stability and flexibility in the enterprise, understanding that both are desired properties or
qualities of the system, which must be engineered in the enterprise system itself, not added
onto and which do not oppose one another. Likewise, stability is just as important as
flexibility, and stability may not be taken for granted as it is false pretense to assume that
enterprise system’s stability is the normal state of affairs, which occurs in the absence of
flexibility, just as it is also false to assume that in the absence of change there will
automatically be stability in the system.
1.1 The Metacontrollability of the Enterprise
Metacontrollability, as the term signals, is the highest level of control within the enterprise,
the control of the enterprise’s control system, and it rests basically on the shoulders of
enterprise management. It is indeed the control of all other control layers of the firm, and it
is responsible for coordinating, amalgamating and effectively leveraging the multiplicity of
control actions taking place and resources being used at any one time in the manufacturing
enterprise, whether these may be managerial, infrastructure, organizational and cultural,
technological or strategic, in order to secure a coherent and successful use of the
enterprise’s limited physical and managerial resources to deal with uncertainty and
complexity following a set of specific strategic guidelines, normally laid out on the
enterprise’s mission and vision statements.
As we all know there are multiple instances of control within a manufacturing enterprise,
designed for very specific purposes and they are found in every level and area of the
company, yet there must be a higher level of control, one which is above all other layers,
and which makes sure that the enterprise system as a whole works in a way that satisfies
the ongoing need for flexibility and stability within the firm, thus making it possible for the
enterprise to deal effectively with uncertainty and perturbations affecting the organization,
yet securing continuity of operations amid the various actions and changes in the
operations taking place, aimed at providing greater flexibility for the firm to achieve its
1.2 Management of Uncertainty and the Organization
Manufacturing organizations are essentially open, living systems, which are constantly
faced with various forms of uncertainty, instability and complexity, yet requiring
continuity/stability, clarity of purpose and an adequate degree of flexibility at every level
of the enterprise system to operate in a rational manner, as it has been pointed out by Slack
(Slack, 1997 and 1987). Change and uncertainty in its various forms are familiar ghosts to
enterprises of all types, yet a complex concept not always straightforwardly linked to
flexibility, as the different approaches in literature show. In the case of uncertainty,
flexibility can be seen as coinciding with the ability to deal with the unexpected, both
within the manufacturing enterprise and outside (De Toni and Tonchia, 1998). The main
issue appears to be whether the measurement of uncertainty is adequate for either
perceived or objective approaches (Swamidass and Newell, 1987) and more recently the
effort to link various forms of flexibility to the enterprise’s strategy. The objective
measures of uncertainty are classified and scaled based on the environmental conditions
and perturbations surrounding the enterprise system. Environmental uncertainty has been
argued to be one of the main reasons for a firm to seek flexibility (Gerwin, 1987; Slack,
1989), and some researchers provide empirical support for such assertion (Swamidass and
Newell, 1987), yet little attention has been given to sources of variation and the uncertainty
emanated from it within the enterprise system itself.
The manufacturing enterprise is described as a complex system (Pritsker, 1990). Change
and uncertainty and the tensions derived from them are all around us all the time. This is
particularly true in a manufacturing environment, where resources at every level of the
enterprise try to cope with ever changing conditions imposed by inside forces and by the
system interaction with its environment. It is no doubt that the challenge of coping with
change and the uncertainty derived from it begs the question of how much flexibility is
needed and how do we apply it. It assumes that most of the managerial problems created
by change derive from its nature and rate, but it is apparent that we cannot deal with
change effectively unless we understand its nature (Ackoff, 1981). The problem of change
and uncertainty affecting organizations and the way to deal with them from a systems
theory stand point have also been analyzed extensively by authors such as Chris Argyris
(Argyris, 1973 and 1985), Carlsson (Carlsson, 1989) and by Alvin Toffler in The Adaptive
Corporation (Toffler, 1985), correctly asserting that organizations need to be designed to
deal with internal and external factors that cause perturbations effectively. That is to say,
they must have flexibility as well as stability incorporated as properties of the enterprise
system itself, inherently operating in the system as a whole, and being determined at all
times not but independent forces but by the elements which comprise the control system of
the enterprise. Hence if we want the enterprise system to transit from stable to flexible
mode and vice versa quickly and effectively, we must make sure that the control system is
engineered in such a way as to satisfy these requirements.
1.3 Establishing the right balance between Flexibility and Stability
Organizations no doubt need stability as much as they need flexibility in order to operate,
because if everything about the organization were to be always changing or change without
latitude, the organization would be crippled by chaos and disarray. Hence some aspects of
organizations must change in a controlled fashion when it is necessary to do so, making it
possible for the enterprise system to survive, and even exploit the benefits of changes both
inside the organization and in its environment. We can try to understand how to establish
the right balance between enterprise flexibility and stability, by looking at the
manufacturing enterprise as a control system. Thus depending on the need or objective
being presented upon the system, the enterprise alternates between flexibility and stability
phases all the time, in different measures and extent, depending on the situation being
faced. Furthermore, we assert that the system needs to apply its different types of
flexibility constructs to compensate for uncertainty and risk at different levels of the
system, but always in correspondence with the strategic needs and objectives of the
enterprise. This is in our view the ultimate proof of enterprise flexibility’s effectiveness.
The importance of flexibility management for organizational effectiveness may not be
underscored. We cannot cope effectively with uncertainty and change unless we develop
an appropriate set of flexibilities of different types and metrics, and at the same time we
have to make sure that these flexibility types and metrics are in tune with specific set of
strategic options, which are part of the enterprise global strategic model. Flexibility is
desired in order to handle uncertainties and variations in both internal and external
environment (Ramasesh and Jayakumar, 1991). It has been correctly asserted that
flexibility is a multi-dimensional concept (Gerwin, 1993; Upton, 1994), and like agility
and simplicity, it is also a property of manufacturing enterprises that can be interpreted and
measured differently (Upton, 1995) at different levels of an enterprise system, and as it has
been said, it holds a different meaning at different levels of the enterprise system
depending on the means by which it is to be achieved (Cheng et al., 1997).
Since at any point in time there are multiple situations and conditions affecting the
enterprise system, and these are associated with different levels of uncertainty and
variations, therefore they call for different sorts of flexibility at different levels of the
enterprise system. These levels are impacted by the different elements which comprise the
organization. Flexibility is generally seen by some authors as a situation specific in nature
(Gupta and Buzacott, 1996). Gerwin (1993) advocates the need for further research to be
aimed at an applied orientation, and the need to link flexibility (in terms of the methods
and technology used), as well as to the benefits they carry in different situations. Correa
(1994) when referring to the manufacturing system, requests that a clear link be made
between desired or required system flexibility levels, and the resources necessary to
achieve them. These resources, in our view, are those which must be engineered in the
enterprise as parts of its control system. The enterprise control system is responsible for
providing the necessary flexibility and stability to the system when it needs it and, at the
same time, it controls how much of both are needed over a certain time frame. Hence it is
none other than the control system of the enterprise, the key element which determines the
enterprise system viability by generating the necessary control actions to attend the
enterprise’s flexibility and stability/continuity requirements and it achieves this by
operating its different components at different levels of the enterprise system, thus
generating the said control actions that account for and manage the various disturbances
occurring inside and outside the enterprise system as a whole.
Research on flexibility is extensive and abundant, where important works surfaced
particularly in the 1990s decade. Sethi and Sethi (1990) and De Toni and Tonchia (1998)
provided broad literature reviews. The major interest in research appears to be the
classification of flexibility. Several authors have used organizational, hierarchical,
temporal, or objective criteria to build flexibility taxonomies (De Toni and Tonchia, 1998).
Most authors focused on either exploring the relationship between flexibility and
performance or building conceptual typologies or taxonomies (Narasimhan and Das,
1999), but without addressing the flexibility issue as a property which must be built in the
enterprise system. Likewise, few studies have focused on the links between flexibility and
operations improvements under a certain strategic framework. Among those, Collins and
Schmenner’s (1993) rigid flexibility model appears to provide one of the most consistent
answers to producers squeezed by market volatility.
In this very point we think it is essential to understand that flexibility, as well as stability,
is an important property of the enterprise system as a whole, not only at the manufacturing
system’s level. Both stability and flexibility are indeed indispensable for the enterprise’s
viability as a dynamic system, but more importantly, they are not properties which are
independent of the enterprise system, nor may they be added to it or taken away from the
system simply as an accessory. These are both fundamental properties of the enterprise
system itself. They are built into the enterprise, and as part of the enterprise’s control
system toolbox they must be engineered effectively in its control system in order for this to
adequately respond to the enterprise’s needs and objectives.
1.4 The entropy analysis: a road not taken
Unlike other authors such as Shuiabi et al (2005); Kumar (1986 and 1987) and Piplani et al
(2006) who choose to view entropy as a measure of operational flexibility and seek to
analyze entropy and entropy generating factors as determinants of manufacturing
flexibility within manufacturing systems, following the logic of entropy maximization as a
way to foster and generate higher degrees of flexibility in manufacturing, we don’t believe
that flexibility is directly linked to entropy and therefore we do not advocate entropy
analysis and much less entropy maximization as a means to maximize flexibility. On the
contrary and based on experience in various manufacturing enterprises of different size and
industry sector, we think that entropy is not necessarily a good thing, and indeed too much
entropy might be detrimental to the purpose of generating higher degrees of flexibility.
We can think of entropy as a measure of disorder in the manufacturing enterprise system,
and the more information (in all its forms) there is in the system, the more entropy there is.
Too much information and too many choices can lead to disorder and immobility, just as
we feel overwhelmed when going into a supermarket and looking for soap only to find that
there are so many options to choose from that to even think of analyzing which one is
better is just mind boggling. Although we agree that having a prudent number of
alternatives of action in operations (a controlled approach to flexibility) is absolutely
desirable, and that such flexibility must exist ideally in every one of the elements that
comprise the enterprise system as a whole and determines its operational viability, we also
believe that having stability and order is just as equally important as having enterprise
flexibility, and thus we feel that flexibility, as a desirable property of the manufacturing
enterprise, is much too complex to simply analyze it in terms of the possible entropy
linkage between flexibility and entropy, much less to explain it in terms of entropy.
More over, we think that looking to maximize entropy as a means to maximize flexibility
is the wrong approach, not only because flexibility is a complex property of the enterprise
system that must be studied and analyzed from multiple angles and can not be simply
explained as a byproduct of entropy, but also because entropy in our view is a measure of
disorder and, although it may seem at first that having as many options or alternatives of
action in operations is a positive fact that generates conditions for higher flexibility, it is
only apparent. The truth is that unless flexibility has been carefully engineered in the
enterprise system by judiciously designing which alternatives ought to be present in every
element of the enterprise control system, too much to choose from can be negative, and
lead to rigidity, inefficiency and disorder.
In general, disorder and entropy in work environments, and in manufacturing enterprises in
particular, arise when there is too much information going around in the system (sales
targets, work orders, products/parts routing options, different stock volumes as buffer, etc.)
making it difficult for the system to handle itself adequately and timely given a certain
time constraint. There is also the degradation of this information, as it is being handed
down and applied from higher to lower hierarchical ranks.
Also disorder emerges from internal perturbations of the enterprise system when, for
example, there are conflicting goals and needs emerging from such information when
involving common resources to accomplish a certain objective. That is the case when two
or more products of a production plan dispute their access to a machine so that they can
continue their production sequence and finish an order. The same thing happens with
various other scarce resources within the enterprise system, particularly human resources
and time. Examples of this type are most commonly observed in manufacturing enterprise
environments when there are a limited number of key resources (time, machines, skilled
operators, work orders to be processed and limited raw materials, dispatching/delivery, etc)
and multiple requirements/needs set upon them.
Likewise, manufacturing systems, being open, dynamic systems are constantly struggling
between stability and change. Variations and disorder have different sources, and come in
different forms and magnitude at different levels of the manufacturing enterprise system.
Perturbations come from outside and from within the system, and both have to be dealt
with differently. While flexibility needs are important in hindering adverse effects of
unexpected changes and disturbances coming from outside the system, it is equally
important and necessary for management to deal with disorder and chaos springing within,
at different levels and sections of the manufacturing system. Both types of uncertainty and
change are different in nature and require a different treatment. Therefore the enterprise
control system is called to act upon the different types of perturbations affecting the
enterprise system at different levels by deploying the necessary control actions to
overcome such perturbations.
Thus the need for flexibility as well as stability is always present. As in a dynamic
environment, the two terms seldom balance each other for any extended period of time, so
in the real world systems tend to fluctuate around the states that define their steady states,
rather than settle into them without further variation. So enterprise systems tend to
fluctuate between stable conditions (steady state) and changing conditions (uncertainty
provided by variations) which require the system to be flexible, but within certain defined
guidelines and boundaries, to cope effectively with these changes. Hence in order to
display its flexibilities, manufacturing systems, as do other human activity organizations,
generally move from a state of higher organization (more stable state) to one of lower
organization (higher entropy level), from order to disorder. As far as it is known, this
process always moves in the same direction, and since entropy is a measure of the disorder
in a system, a highly organized system is said to be low-entropy, while a disordered system
is said to be high-entropy. Thus entropy increases as order decreases.
While flexibility measures may be well prescribed for treating unexpected variation from
outside factors, which threaten the system with disorder and disarray, the same prescription
may not be used just the same and to the same extent for unexpected variations and their
derived uncertainties, and then expect similar results. For instance, variations and their
derived uncertainties may be dealt with effectively in terms of increasing stocks of raw
materials, when there is uncertainty about the availability of the required types and
quantities of materials due to external conditions such as reliable suppliers or shipment not
readily available, or on the other hand, an enterprise wanting to produce for stock of
finished products when there is uncertainty as to how much the demand for a certain key
product may vary over a certain period, risking expected sales figures.
However, in the case of perturbations arising within the system, as for example an
unexpected machine break-down, the unexpected problems with a machine’s set-up or a
key machine operator falling sick and not reporting for work are just a few examples of
adverse situations that are quite different from outside perturbations and uncertainty in the
sense that these factors, which are but a small part of a long list of factors and conditions
which are part of the system itself, that is they are factors and conditions that are dependent
upon the structure and organization of the manufacturing enterprise system, and as such
they are built in the system, and depend essentially on the right managerial decisions, aided
by an adequate operations and business strategy to structure measures to fend off such
perturbations effectively.
Therefore, while perturbations and uncertainty coming from outside forces may be more
readily understood and more clearly dealt with and the flexibilities measures required to
deal with them and their strategic linkage more readily apparent to the trained observer, the
conditions which originate perturbations and uncertainty within the system are, for the
most part, factors which depend on the way the manufacturing system is structured and
organized and on the resources built into the system. Thus to deal effectively with inside
forces that cause perturbations and uncertainty (lack of stability) in the manufacturing
system, management has to consider first and foremost such vital aspects as the
manufacturing and business strategies of the enterprise, and how well the enterprise
organization and structure are aligned with these strategies, and make sure that the
manufacturing enterprise system as a whole is appropriately endowed with the necessary
resources, both physical and human, and the management and administrative policies
needed to ensure that the system is able to sort out adverse situations and conditions
Appropriate measures of flexibility at different levels of the manufacturing enterprise
system are part of these resources, and it is a matter of how well and how appropriate these
flexibilities measures are engineered in the enterprise system, which determines how
capable is the system when it comes to responding to these adverse conditions, and how
apt and effective it is at maximizing its performance despite its limitations and
perturbations. Hence it is clear from this that flexibility measures ought to be built into the
system in a way that they are deeply ingrained in the organization and structure of the
enterprise system, so that when the system makes use of these resources they don’t come at
a high extra cost to the enterprise system itself.
2.1 Enterprise’s Metacontrollability and the Role of Management
The role of management is a complex one. First it has to deal with securing company
profits and enterprise system overall performance, and at the same time has to always
monitor the coherence of company vision and mission with its operation maneuvering to
make sure that the ship is set on the right course. In this way management is responsible
for controlling the organization at all levels, and it is this high level controlling which we
call metacontrollability and its capacity to exert variable, localized control within the
system, what will ultimately determine how able and successful the system is at dealing
with perturbations and uncertainty coming from outside and within the system. Thus, the
responsiveness of the enterprise manufacturing system rests upon appropriate and timely
control actions engineered and built into the system by management and this in turn
determines the success or failure of the manufacturing enterprise system’s
Hence Metacontrollability rests on the hands of management and its capability to
adequately monitor the system’s strategic needs and objectives and at the same time, assess
the necessary system’s requirements and provide the resources to fulfill these needs and
objectives, which determine when, where, how much and which type of flexibility measure
is to be used. Like a ship’s automatic control system determines when, how and how much
the ship’s rudder moves at any point of its journey, the metacontrollability of the
manufacturing enterprise system as a whole depends on its management and the resources
and capabilities that were engineered in the system, and in turn both flexibility and stability
at every level of the manufacturing enterprise system depend on the success or failure of its
Companies are increasingly concentrating on flexibility as a way to achieve new forms of
competitive advantage (Upton, 1995). Strategy should influence manufacturing flexibility
requirements and hence the choice of production technology (Gerwin and Kolodny, 1992).
As Palominos put it, when referring to the textile manufacturing industry, the enterprise
production system’s capacity to respond must be addressed from a broader and more
general perspective (Palominos, 1996), which, in our view must necessarily account for the
strategic implications of enterprise flexibility. This approach to flexibility we feel is
appropriate, rather than trying to reduce flexibility to a particular subset of system and
analyze it just from the operations point of view without linking it to the enterprise’s
strategic framework. Thus we feel that this concept of flexibility is not only more
appropriate, as viewed from a wider perspective, but also more effective in terms of
measuring the system’s responsiveness to change and how this affects the enterprise
standing in terms of its strategic framework, whether it be at the corporate, business or
operational level.
3.1 Flexibility and Stability as properties of the manufacturing enterprise system
Not only do we think that the manufacturing enterprise, as an open dynamic system, must
respond adequately to changes outside its environment but also to changes that occur
inside the system itself. Unlike other authors, who choose to view flexibility as the
capacity to respond to outside changes that affect the manufacturing enterprise, we think
that flexibility and stability are both properties of the enterprise system which are indeed of
a very complex nature, and this complexity is reflected on the fact that there are multiple
elements that determine the degree and extent of the flexibility measure generated by the
control system of the enterprise. Thus flexibility and stability must not only be viewed as
necessary properties of a firm’s operations, as so many authors have done, but also as a
business and corporate necessity of the enterprise as a whole, given the
multidimensionality aspect of flexibility as the need for flexibility is present at every level
and in every area of the enterprise, and must be administrated by management at all three
Also flexibility at each level means different things, as it is associated with specific needs
and objectives that are particular of the level and area/department of the enterprise at any
given time. These specific needs and objectives must in our view be linked to specific
strategic goals of the enterprise. For example in operational flexibility, it makes sense that
the manufacturing system may have multiple routing options for any given product’s
manufacturing, a flexible, multidisciplinary workforce, a variety of flexible machines, that
can manufacture multiple parts of a product or family of products, and that can also be
reconfigured to handle other tasks such as adding finishing and other special customization
characteristics to a particular product. At the business level, on the other hand, flexibility
may take the form of financial flexibility, sales and marketing flexibility, flexible
merchandizing or distribution flexibility. Finally, at the corporate level, the corporation
must be able to tap on new markets when conditions merit so, or change to a new market
when a particular market it is in is declining or becoming obsolete, and also, for example,
build a new plant when particular market demand conditions so requires it. Understood this
way, flexibility is not only coherent but also strategic.
As stability is sought as a much needed property of manufacturing systems to reach a
certain equilibrium state when it is required, so is flexibility an important and
indispensable property in today’s manufacturing enterprise as a way to face uncertainty
and manage perturbations effectively, which may even nest hidden opportunities that the
enterprise system must realize. The problem of uncertainty and choice risk derived from it
is one which affects the enterprise at every level always. This problem was recognized
formally in the literature by authors such as Stigler (Stigler, 1939) and others in which the
production curve flexibility was studied with respect to uncertainty in prices of goods.
Hayes and Wheelwright (1984) point to flexibility as a basic element of a firm’s
competitive advantage, thus underlining the strategic character of flexibility as a desired
property of manufacturing systems. Skinner (1978, 1985), on the other hand, argues that
flexibility may be considered in a strategic context, particularly in the investment process.
In Figure 3.1 we show the model whereby flexibility may be achieved by means of control
actions of the enterprise, and a feedback control system represented by a performance
measurement linked directly to strategic needs and objectives and to the control system
itself. It is important to note here that flexibility must be viewed as a necessity of the
enterprise to survive, just as stability or continuity is a permanent need of the enterprise
system upon reaching steady state. Therefore flexibility is not a goal in itself but means to
an end. It is by being flexible and agile when conditions affecting the manufacturing
enterprise so requires it that the enterprise may be able to achieve its strategic needs and
objectives and not the other way around. Thus flexibility measurement is not relevant in
itself but only when it is viewed in the context of the strategic needs and objectives of the
enterprise that the measure of flexibility helps to achieve.
In order to illustrate our approach, we have taken the conceptual framework of flexibility
proposed by Gerwin (Gerwin, 1993), which presents an interesting feedback loop approach
which gives support to our systemic view of flexibility analysis, and have modified it in
order to elaborate on our control system approach model to enterprise flexibility.
Figure 3.1 Control System Approach Model to Enterprise Flexibility
On the other hand, Jordan and Graves (1995), develop some principles of the benefits of
flexibility in the production system of the automotive industry, for n plants and m products.
The main principles, as resumed by Palominos (1996), are:
Needs and
of the
Control Actions
which determine
Flexibility and
perturbations and
opportunities arising
both within and
outside the system
a) With small amounts of flexibilities, it is possible to get all the benefits of having total
b) The way to incorporate flexibility is to create few but different products in each plant.
Finally it is important to point out that the issue of flexibility types and their incorporation
at different levels of the enterprise system has been put forward by many researchers
before, who present different research approaches to the flexibility problem in
manufacturing systems, and lay out the basics of their postulates for future research to
follow, however three fundamental problems remain (Palominos, 1996). These are:
i) The need to define, in precise terms, which type of performance measures are they
making reference to when they talk about flexibility in manufacturing; so that it may be
possible to establish comparisons among different factories;
ii) The metrics of Flexibility continue to be a problem that needs to be address in a more
general way, since a given measure of flexibility that may be adequate for a manufacturing
enterprise, may not be a representative measure of such flexibility when applied to another
iii) The little knowledge available on the principles that rule the different types of
3.2 A Controlled Approach to Flexibility: The Lessons of Discipline, Simplicity and
Engineers are taught early on in life the importance of simplicity and flexibility. They learn
in theory and later by experience that simple but effective is better than perfect, and that
too much information and too many options are usually detrimental to production systems
performance. Managers have known and applied these principles for years, and we
ourselves have been witnesses to this several times in our work life to know how valid they
are, to the point that even top managers, of the most successful companies in the world,
have signaled these principles (or properties) of enterprise systems as key to their success.
Two sources of such principles and how they are applied in manufacturing are Lean
Manufacturing (Womack et al., 1990) and the Rigid Flexibility model Collins et al. (1998).
In 1990 James Womack wrote a book called "The Machine That Changed the World"
(Womack et al., 1990). Womack's book was a straightforward account of the history of
automobile manufacturing combined with a study of Japanese, American, and European
automotive assembly plants. What was new in it was a phrase-- "Lean Manufacturing"
which caught the attention of the manufacturing world. As we all know, there is no
cookbook for building a successful manufacturing enterprise. Each firm has its own unique
environment and its own set of products, processes, people, and history behind it. While
certain principles may be immutable, their application is not. Like its homologous, the
Rigid Flexibility model, Lean manufacturing represents a set of tools and a stepwise
strategy for achieving smooth, predictable product flow, maximum product flexibility, and
minimum system waste. Such flexibility competencies can be achieved through building
simplicity and discipline in operations.
As Collins et al. (1998) show in their study, the rigid flexibility model provides evidence to
link simplicity, discipline and agility to what we term controlled flexibility, in
manufacturing companies from the five western European countries of Britain, Germany,
Switzerland, the Netherlands and Finland. Here one can learn that a well coordinated,
controlled and focalized use of flexibility measures, all part of a concrete strategic
enterprise model, can really make a difference and ensure that operations choices are
adequately linked to strategic options.
Like the Rigid Flexibility model Collins et al. (1998), Lean Manufacturing is another
source of what we term controlled flexibility. In this manufacturing enterprise model,
flexibility types are quite focused and discrete but effective, and they respond to a
controlled and measured standard which is adequately linked to a specific strategic
framework, favoring particular set of strategic options, as Toyota and so many other
companies which have successfully applied this model can show. As it has been
appropriately put by author Giovani J.C. da Silveira the rigid flexibility model suggested
that flexibility competence could be developed by building simplicity and discipline in
manufacturing. Simplicity was about streamlining information and materials flow
processes. Discipline was about carrying out procedures in dedicated and consistent
fashion. Both (properties), simplicity and discipline, would result from improvements in
several areas including information and process technology, labor development, product
design, and process configuration(Da Silveira, 2005). And Da Silveira sheds more light
into the model success when he adds that the model’s premise was somewhat paradoxical,
as flexibility would result not from building capacity or inventory buffers [as suggested by
several studies in operations and supply chain management, e.g. Fisher, 1997; Huang et
al., 2002; Jack and Raturi, 2002] or from allowing improvisation in manufacturing.
Instead, flexibility would result from rigid processes that consistently and diligently
pursued strategic tasks”. Thus we learn that too much leeway and too many options may in
turn create confusion and disarray, letting ambiguity as to which way to go and when mark
the norm. This excess and focus lacking flexibility may simply work against a proper,
discrete and strategically sound use of flexibility, as it was partially hinted by Collins and
Schmenner (Collins and Schmenner, 1993). Management actions that are well focused on
order, agility, discipline and simplicity to pursue operations objectives, all under a strict
operational strategy framework, such as the one provided by Lean Manufacturing or the
Rigid Flexibility Model can prove not only effective at applying a controlled use of
flexibility with very good results but also successful at linking the application of a set of
well defined flexibility measures to concrete strategic objectives, rather than just reducing
the number of options available to the firm.
There is ample evidence in the firms that have successfully applied either Lean
Manufacturing or the Rigid Flexibility Model (see Collins et al. (1998) to suggest that
streamlined manufacturing processes, order, focus and discipline make quite a difference
in operations. Japanese manufacturing is a very good example of these traits. Also the
concepts of simplicity and discipline in manufacturing are clearly defined in the empirical
study by Collins et al. (1998). Simplicity in the manufacturing environment takes the form
of streamlining processes, procedures, information and material flow. Special work and
labor arrangements and greater visibility of stocks and material flows are other forms of
simplicity, which may include product modularization, cellular layout, reduction of waste
including wasted motion, inventory reduction at all levels, zero defect, improved
information exchange and processing both with suppliers and customers, and the
importance of internal customers within the system and the responsibility of work force
with one another in order to respond effectively the first time.
Discipline has to be embedded in the organization’s culture and makes up for important
practices such as process control, effectiveness and efficiency metrics, process focus,
process automation, and an ever ending quest for a reduction in operations complexity and
variation have made many companies that have applied these manufacturing models
successful. Discipline is best illustrated by the 5-S strategy which is one of the best and
most effective tools of Japanese manufacturing, and part of Lean Manufacturing. It refers
to making sure that the manufacturing system and everything in it is reliable and effective.
Everything, from work methods, procedures, and process performance to information
processing, machine utilization, organization in materials flow and stock obey certain rules
and constraints.
Much of this manufacturing philosophy has to do with best practices and effectiveness at
no extra cost to the system. As Kaoru Ishikawa (Ishikawa, 1985) and Shigeo Shingo
(Shingo, 1995) taught, it involves quickly identifying and solving problems, improving
work methods, and carrying out procedures in a dedicated and consistent fashion to secure
the system response upon sudden requirements. Discipline initiatives included preventive
maintenance, workplace development, housekeeping, continuous improvements, and
operator checking of quality in general. These practices coupled with the way in which
management actions account for their unique and effective types of flexibility, provide
convincing evidence that in these manufacturing companies a controlled, well disciplined
form of flexibility is a key part of the equation, making it possible for manufacturing
systems and processes to reconfigure themselves when needed and adapt to changing
requirements at no significant cost or chaos to the enterprise. But it is metacontrollability
the one which is ultimately in charge, and it is its responsibility to exert measured,
controlled flexibility in the system but keeping certain constraints like those easily
observed in Lean Manufacturing for example, where simplicity, discipline, and a well
balanced form of flexibility. Similar conditions and principles govern is the case of the
rigid flexibility, where management, rather than stiffening procedures and processes,
promote company best practices at every level and push both efficient and effective work
methods that enabled the firm to respond quickly to market changes as well as being agile
and responsive to changes inside the system.
In order to carry out an immense number of complex operations and tasks, which in turn
demand a multiplicity of complex decision making processes, all of this in very dynamic
environments, manufacturing enterprise systems must decide, upon uncertainties and
unpredictability arising both from outside and within the systems, when and how to plan
and when to act, how to detect and recover from errors, how to handle conflicting goals
and decisions, etc. In short, management at every level of the manufacturing enterprise
must effectively plan, coordinate, and control their limited physical and human resources,
trying to optimize the systemsoutcomes as a result of transformation of their given inputs
and outputs at any given time.
As the tasks and decision making environments become increasingly complex, explicit
constraints and boundaries are needed to impose a certain structure on the control of
planning, perception and action of the systems to improve system performance and to
ensure that they are able to operate effectively within a specific operational framework
which delimits their flexibility in operations and ensures that their decision making options
are mapped to specific strategy options and not the other way around. This we feel is
essential in making sure that the systems will achieve their goals while strategic options
remain secured. In our view, this approach handles uncertainty and unpredictable changes
better, since it reduces the amount of entropy and complexity being produced within and
outside the manufacturing enterprise system. However it is unclear how systems can
maintain their balance between flexibility and stability requirements and at the same time
keep their strategic coherence as tasks and environments increase in diversity. The problem
is that, as manufacturing systems grow bigger and more versatile, complexity increases and
so does entropy, hence complex interactions among decisions and actions within the
system increase as well, to the point where it becomes difficult to predict the system’s
overall outcome, measure its flexibility-linked effectiveness and much less secure the link
between this effectiveness and the enterprise strategic options.
One way in which we can try to limit the amount of flexibility in the enterprise system to a
level and scope that is adequate and manageable based on system’s requirements and
objectives, is to limit the options available in operations (too many options and too much
leeway in operations is just as bad as not having options at all), thus preventing it from
spanning out of control. This may be achieved by adding top-down constraints upon the
system’s available actions and allow it to take advantage of regularities in its domain to
coordinate actions in a more recursive fashion, thus reducing entropy and complexity at
different levels of the system and, in this way, preventing or at least attenuating these
adverse conditions from happening. Good examples of this can be found in Lean
Manufacturing and the Rigid Flexibility Model, both cited previously as examples of what
we call a controlled approach to manufacturing enterprise flexibility.
The approach advocated here, which we term metacontrollability of the manufacturing
enterprise system, is basically one in which, like Lean Manufacturing (Womack, 1990) and
the Rigid Flexibility Model Collins et al. (1998), strategic options are closely linked to and
secured by their operational and business strategic framework by means of adequate
control actions of the system. System reliability and effectiveness is increased by using an
operation model whose pillars are adaptability, simplicity and agility, maintaining specific
operational constraints and system’s boundaries to secure its quick, agile and effective
response and incrementally layering on additional options in operations behavior to handle
exceptions and extreme, unbounded situations. Thus, the separation of regular/nominal and
exceptional behaviors of the enterprise system increases system understandability and
controllability by isolating different concerns: the manufacturing enterprise system’s
behavior during normal, regular operations and conditions is readily apparent, and its
efficiency and responsiveness are maximized, while strategies for handling exceptions can
be developed as needed. Furthermore, complex interactions are minimized by constraining
the applicability of behaviors to specific situations, so that only manageable, predictable
subsets will be active at any one time.
Finally, this control problem approach acknowledges the fact that creating agile,
operationally flexible and strategically sound manufacturing enterprises is indeed, in itself,
a very complex and formidable challenge which must be treated as an incremental process:
one in which managers and engineers should be able to treat singularities with caution.
They should think twice before adding more behavioral options and variety to the system
(thus incrementing the system’s complexity and entropy), but adding new behaviors only
when it is extremely necessary to do so, and with little or no modification to existing
systems and operations, thus limiting the cost and operational compromise as
consequences of these additions. There are many successful examples of companies in the
manufacturing world which have accomplished a sound, controlled and cost effective use
of flexibility in a variety of forms at all levels of the enterprise system. Lean
Manufacturing and the Rigid Flexibility model already mentioned here are both good
examples of manufacturing enterprise strategies which apply this rational, control system
approach to the use of flexibility, and with excellent results. Examples of this are
companies like Honda and Toyota, which combine the best practices of Lean
Manufacturing with Japanese manufacturing principles. Such is the case of Nissan's
Smyrna plant recently named North America's most productive auto plant by Harbour and
Associates. Employing more than 5900 persons, with a production capacity of 450,000
vehicles per year, Nissan knows the importance of synchronizing flow, JIT manufacturing
and optimizing production processes.
Another forerunner, which combines the best of Lean Manufacturing with Japanese
manufacturing principles and philosophy is Honda, which like Toyota, has developed a
built-in flexibility with clearly defined boundaries, achieving high quality, cost efficiency
and productivity with appropriate measures of flexibility. Toyota Motor Company for
example, like its competitor Honda, developed a highly-disciplined and process-focused
production system, with the sole objective of minimizing the consumption of resources that
do not have any added value to the product. Just-in-time and 5-S programs are also good
examples of this particular form of achieving a controlled form of enterprise flexibility. 5S
refers to the five structured programs using the Japanese principles of seiri, seiton, seison,
seiketsu, and shitsuke —or commonly referred to as sort, set, shine, standardize and
sustain, respectively. The Japanese words are shorthand expressions for principles of
maintaining an efficient and effective workplace and office. In essence Japanese
manufacturing is much more concerned with having the least many options to run the
system properly. Only the truly necessary options, which prove to make the manufacturing
and the company’s operations in general most efficient and productive, are left. Nothing is
wasted and everything is strictly for a reason, otherwise it should not be there. Therefore
excess flexibility in the system, far from being beneficial or desirable, is seen by Japanese
managers as a waste.
4.1 Metacontrollability of the enterprise system: tying the knot between flexibility
metrics and strategic objectives
Organizations in general, and particularly manufacturing enterprises, fluctuate between
periods of stability and change in the course of their operations almost permanently. The
degree of stability and change in the enterprise system also fluctuates, depending on a
myriad of factors. This becomes even more so as production transits from low season sales
to high season during the course of a regular year, and it is more evident toward the end of
the month, as work orders pile up disputing scarce manufacturing resources such as
equipment and machinery, labor, materials and time for processing.
As work orders are run thru the manufacturing system and products are fabricated,
customers’ purchase orders strive hard for the chance of being served on time, in order to
meet dead lines and deliver the products to the customer on the date agreed upon with the
sales agent. All of this imposes different levels of stress on the system, which in turn
reflect various degrees of uncertainty affecting the enterprise system’s operations, which
must be dealt with. Thus every successful organization, in order to deal with this ongoing
reality in an effective manner, ought to combine flexibility and stability judiciously by
triggering the appropriate actions in the system when and where they are needed, to
adequately monitor and control its requirements for more or less flexibility or stability as
operations unfold.
Although the latter is rather evident, especially for those with vast manufacturing and
operations management experience, it is by no means evident how this delicate balance
between stability and flexibility of varying degrees is being achieved. For the outside
observer, who witnesses the enterprise control system in action, amid all the frenzy of
change and uncertainty being brought upon the system by both outside and inside forces
acting differently upon the enterprise and therefore triggering different system responses,
things seem to work fine and for the successful manufacturing enterprise, its control
system appears to respond. But if we look closer and more attentively, we will notice that
this clockwork coordination at every level of the enterprise system is not random, much
less mechanical. There must be a higher control layer, or what we term metacontrollability,
a supra control system operating around the clock in order to ensure the system capacity to
respond to the various exigencies being brought upon it.
This higher or supra control, which can be understood as the control of the enterprise
control system, is what we have termed metacontrollability. Metacontrollability is in the
hands of enterprise management and it is no other than management the one which is
ultimately responsible for its success or failure. Metacontrollability is in charge of applying
and adjusting the degree of stability and flexibility at every level of the manufacturing
enterprise system as needed. The amount of flexibility needed depends on the degree of
both, environmental disturbances (changes outside the organization) and perturbations
inside the organization as well, and how these forces affect specific strategic needs and
objectives. Both flexibility and stability are generated and controlled by the
metacontrollability of the organization. This metacontrollability is the very central nervous
system of the enterprise, meaning that it is over all the other forms of control which
operate at every level of an enterprise, being each organization a unique system.
The control system of the enterprise, which we have termed metacontrollability, is in turn
comprised of five basic elements. These elements of the enterprise must be strategically
interconnected and operate closely intertwined in order to correctly determine the
enterprise requirements for flexibility (or stability) at any given time, and what control
action is needed to generate such flexibility. Fig. 4.1 shows this construct and its relations
with one another. The five basic elements which determine the controllability of the
enterprise system are:
1. Enterprise management
2. Strategic goals and management policies at all levels;
3. Organizational structure and culture;
4. Enterprise infrastructure
5. Technology.
Fig. 4.1 The 5 basic elements which comprise the control system of the enterprise.
However differently, they all impact both enterprise flexibility and stability capabilities
and determine the enterprise system’s viability in terms of its capacity to adequately
manage both.
The above fundamental elements, which comprise the control system of every
organization, particularly manufacturing enterprises, and how these elements are ensemble
Strategic goals
and management
policies at all
structure and
and coordinated, will ultimately determine the type of organization, its control capability
and operational characteristics, and most importantly, its capacity to effectively manage
and satisfy the enterprise system’s needs for flexibility and stability. The most important of
all five is of course the enterprise management, as it is management indeed the main
articulator, and as we said earlier, it is upon management shoulders that the
metacontrollability of the entire enterprise system rests. Hence at the heart of the system
there is always management which is responsible for the right and timely interplay
between flexibility and stability at every level and in every unit of the company.
The degree and extent to which flexibility and stability are to be used in the enterprise
system, as well as the lack of either one, at any one time, depends on enterprise
management capacity and skills to articulate all these elements correctly at every level of
the enterprise, and on the other four elements being adequately designed and implemented
to sustain the enterprise control system capabilities. But management alone is not enough.
It is fundamentally important to distinguish how the different elements are assembled in
the organization and the logic and coordination behind this assemblage. In the 1990’s and
still today, many business reengineering efforts are aimed chiefly at securing this very
The degree of responsiveness of the enterprise control system will depend ultimately on
how well this objective is reached. The supra control of the enterprise the
metacontrollability of the system— will depend on the management’s capacity to act upon
the other four elements in an effective and timely manner, and will also depend on how
well aligned and coordinated are they with one another. This is a key measure of strategic
coherence. Each one of these elements has to be a logical part of the whole, but finally it is
management which is responsible for the whole and every move of its parts. Hence
effectiveness of the enterprise system as a whole relies on its management.
4.2 Describing the different types of enterprise flexibility
The different elements which comprise the control system of the enterprise give birth to
different types of enterprise flexibility as each element’s flexibility contribute to the
enterprise flexibility differently although they all complement one another, and although
each occupies its unique place and ranks differently in the contribution hierarchy to
enterprise flexibility, with management flexibility at the top, they all contribute their share
to accomplish enterprise objectives. We describe now each one of the five types of
enterprise flexibility.
1. Management flexibility. Management is by far the most important of all elements,
ranking at the top of the contribution hierarchy to enterprise flexibility, as it is management
the one responsible for the metacontrollability of the enterprise system, with the other
elements’ decisions being dependent upon management. We can define management
flexibility as the capacity of management to respond to change, and to be able to adjust its
policies and management style in order to create the necessary conditions within the
enterprise system for the enterprise to become effectively responsive, agile and recursive in
its actions toward the need to adapt to changes, whether they present themselves in the
form of perturbations or opportunities coming from inside or outside the enterprise system.
Management style and policies, its capacity to act on every other element of the enterprise
control system, and its influence in the organizational structure and culture, directly
determine the degree of flexibility available. Rigid, hierarchical management styles and
policies are a basic hindrance to enterprise flexibility. Enterprise management actions
which determine flexibility include making the right decisions in a timely and consistent
manner and taking a proactive approach to problem solving, promptly bringing about the
necessary changes as needed without having hierarchical or structural factors hinder their
actions. Also the enterprise management capacity to act quickly in making the right
changes in any of the other elements or in a combination of them, whether it may be a
problem with a particular technology being used, an inadequate equipment choice or a
production or storage facility layout that is affecting infrastructure flexibility, or a problem
with the culture of the company that might affect flexibility as well as stability of the
enterprise, will ultimately make the difference between an enterprise control system being
highly responsive and effective and one that it is not .
Management style is a major determinant of enterprise flexibility, most noticeably in
horizontal, almost flat corporations, where management is always available and access to
decision making information regarding enterprise operations flows freely and effectively,
without fear of sharing responsibility and accountability for decisions being made at every
level. Hence a good measure of management flexibility is the ease and effectiveness of the
decision making process and the degree of accessibility and responsiveness that enterprise
personnel gets from management at every level. The strategic options being served are
obvious in this case and need not be explained.
2. Flexibility of strategic goals and management policies at all levels. Strategic goals
and management policies of the enterprise at all levels, on the one hand ought to be
flexible enough so that they may change and adapt to ever changing conditions and
unforeseeable situations which may affect the enterprise. Rigid, inflexible strategic goals
may ultimately turn against the enterprise viability by not allowing it to shift gears when
the circumstances call for it. Management policies on the other hand have to be such that
they may not hamper the changes that are to be implemented as a result of the control
actions generated to deal with perturbations and uncertainty. Strategic goals and
management policies are both strong determinants of enterprise flexibility. Clear, concise
and enterprise’s mission-driven goals are important in maintaining alignment and focus,
however they must also be flexible enough to adapt to changing conditions and situations,
whether internal or external, which may affect the manufacturing enterprise. Management
policies must not be rigid either, but adaptable and operate as means-to-an-end, not an end
in themselves as unfortunately still occurs in so many companies. The strategic option of
enterprises which follow these principles is clear, preserving the organizations viability and
effectiveness over other considerations.
3. Flexibility of organizational structure and culture: Organizational structure and
culture are both determined by the enterprise management and its influence is gravitating
at all levels. Therefore it is crucial to build a highly flexible organizational structure and an
enterprise culture which supports and enhances this property, this way engineering
flexibility in the enterprise’s spinal cord. Organizational structure is, as it was pointed out
before, a major determinant of enterprise flexibility. With the advent of the horizontal
corporation and the reengineering movement in the 90’s, companies were seeking to
become much more productive, substantially reducing cost and time in operations, plus
becoming more customer responsive, and create an agile, empowered and result-driven
culture. The result of applying such innovations in the enterprise organizational structure
and culture paid off and thus provoked a major shift towards greater flexibility and agility
in organizations throughout the world. On the other end, companies which still employ tall,
rigid and highly hierarchical organizational structures and foster submissive, don’t-ask
type of culture find it extremely difficult to articulate changes by generating the necessary
control actions quickly and productively. Therefore, the measure of flexibility associated to
organizational structure and culture and the strategic option thereafter are obvious. The
ease and speed with which the organization’s structure can modify itself in order to meet
the organization’s needs and objectives when being faced with conditions and situations
which make these changes necessary on the one hand, and the measure of proactive and
responsive behavior of its culture on the other are both vital to determine enterprise success
in accomplishing its objectives.
4. Enterprise infrastructure flexibility. The types of infrastructure being used in an
enterprise system are in themselves a major determinant of flexibility. Being subordinated
to management’s decision, infrastructure accounts not only for manufacturing plants,
storage facilities and office buildings but for all types of workspace arrangement within the
enterprise, including energy, power systems, and other systems which make possible to
operate the enterprise at all levels. The infrastructure is in itself a key player in the
flexibility issue. There are abundant examples in the literature of this type of flexibility,
from reconfigurable work spaces, manufacturing cells, modularity, and even
reconfigurable factories which can modify themselves to accommodate new products
manufacturing, new machinery and multimodal work stations. The measure of flexibility
associated to enterprise infrastructure is the ease, the cost and the speed with which
infrastructure can change and adapt to new operations requirements without hampering or
jeopardizing the manufacturing enterprise standards and business obligations. The strategic
option is clear, to be operationally viable as much as possible without compromising cost,
quality and productivity.
5. Technology flexibility. Technology is a key architect of flexibility and thus it must be
chosen correctly. From advanced manufacturing technologies to modern information and
communications technologies, they all impact flexibility in the enterprise at different levels
and in different ways, but undoubtly they play a major role in the enterprise control
system. Technology in all its forms is a key determinant of enterprise flexibility anywhere,
particularly in manufacturing. Advanced manufacturing technologies of various kinds have
emerged over the last fifteen years, particularly with the rapid advent of advanced
manufacturing automation solutions and the advancements in industrial robotics.
On the other hand, advanced integrated information technologies and communication
systems have made possible to have the right information anywhere it is needed at
anytime. Thus flexibility associated to I.T. and communications solutions plus advanced
manufacturing technologies have made a big difference in today’s manufacturing
enterprise. The measure of flexibility is simple: it is given by what the technology allows
operations to do at every level. From the executive offices to the manufacturing floor,
whether it is an ERP system that provides multiples advantages and enterprise-wide
flexibility in terms of information access and processing to advanced, state-of-the-art
manufacturing systems, which are capable of quickly and easily reconfigure themselves to
be used in a variety of product customization options or in new product lines altogether.
The strategic option is unmistakable. It is simply to enable and/or enhance the enterprise
operations capabilities as much as it is economically possible to do so for the company to
achieve its full potential in terms of its mission and business objectives.
4.3 Linking Flexibility Types and Measures to Strategic Options of the
Manufacturing Enterprise.
The effective control of the manufacturing system’s uncertainties and variations at all
levels of the manufacturing enterprise requires management to opt for different ways of
handling uncertainty by using different flexibilities (Correa, 1994). However, not enough
research has been directed towards understanding the nature of the different flexibility
types, which flexibility type suits which specific manufacturing enterprise need, how the
appropriate flexibility type is achieved, and which strategic option is being served by
applying this or that flexibility type. Moreover, it is vital in our view, to map flexibility
types and metrics to specific strategic options, this way ensuring that specific strategic
needs and objectives are well served by a specific set of manufacturing enterprise
flexibilities appropriately measured. These in turn are part of a global strategic model to
which different flexibilities contribute with different metrics. That way each flexibility
type can be linked to a specific strategic option within the firm, whether it is at the
operational, business or corporate level.
As an example of flexibilities that may be linked to business strategy options, there are
internal and external factors cited by the literature. As an example of market-related
factors, from the marketing perspective, Chen et al. (1992) define three different sources of
flexibility need:
(1) increased product diversity;
(2) short product life cycle; and
(3) an increase in buyer concentration (resulting in variations in demand).
In turn, De Toni and Tonchia (1998) offer an extended list of market-related requests for
. the variability of the demand (random or seasonal);
. shorter life cycles of the products and technologies;
. wider range of products;
. increased customization; and
. shorter delivery times.
Another example, although restricted entirely to the manufacturing function, is provided by
Correa (1994) and Gerwin (1993) both of whom have also indicated a number of internal
factors requiring the need for flexibility:
1. uncertainty with respect to machine downtime;
2. uncertainty of whether the material input meets the standards of the process;
3. changes with regard to delivery times of raw materials; and
4. Variations in workforce.
Now that we know the five elements and their interaction in the enterprise system, as
determinants of enterprise flexibility at different levels, we will attempt to link concrete
examples of flexibility measures, triggered by control actions of the system, to specific
strategic options, thus closing the loop on enterprise flexibility performance measurement.
Likewise, there are several types of manufacturing flexibility addressed in the literature. In
order to illustrate our point, we will use the 11 types of flexibility proposed by Sethi and
Sethi (1990) plus others that we have added to complement these in order to illustrate our
basic construct shown below in Figure 4.2
As we saw earlier, the five basic elements which determine the controllability of the
enterprise system are namely:
1. Enterprise management
2. Strategic goals and management policies at all levels;
3. Organizational structure and culture;
4. Enterprise infrastructure
5. Technology.
Hence, the flexibility types we have added to complement those offered by Sethi & Sethi at
the manufacturing system level are: Labor Flexibility (Chang, A.Y. , 2004); Delivery
Flexibility; Supply Flexibility (Elcio Mendonça Tachizawa et al, 2005 and Caniato et al,
2004); and Maintenance Flexibility. Now, in order to clearly differentiate our approach
which aims to analyze flexibility with a feedback loop control system approach at the
enterprise system level, and with a systemic view of the problem, we will proceed to add
the 5 types of enterprise flexibility we explained earlier to clearly illustrate our control
system approach to enterprise flexibility, namely: Management Flexibility (Harwood,
2004); Flexibility of Strategic Goals and Management Policies; Flexibility of
Organizational Structure and Culture; Enterprise Infrastructure Flexibility, and Technology
flexibility which account for the five
Our control system approach to enterprise flexibility is supported by our vision of how the
different flexibility types being present in the enterprise system, and which derived from
each one of the five basic categories we have termed the fundamental elements of the
control system itself; determine the controllability of the enterprise system as a whole.
Requirement Source Flexibility Control Action Measure Strategic need
type type to generate of
/or objective
the flexibility flexibility being served
Variety of operations that a machine can perform Operations
Machine technology without incurring in major or lengthy set up changes capacity and
flexibility enhancement and significant extra cost capabilities
Market market the ease with which a manufacturing Market share and
flexibility development system can adapt to changing market conditions. penetration
production the set of products that a manufacturing Operations
Production versatility and system can produce without adding major capacity and
flexibility enhancement equipment or capacity. capabilities
the ability of a material-handling system to Operations
Material-handling operational move different part types through the capacity and
flexibility enhancement manufacturing system capabilities
the ability of a product to be produced Operations
Operational operational in different ways without major changes capacity and
flexibility enhancement and significant extra cost to the enterprise capabilities
Process flexibility operational the ability of a manufacturing system to produce Operations
enhancement different products without major setups. capabilities
Product flexibility manufacturing the ability of a manufacturing system to produce Operations
different products or various product mixes.
operational the ability of a manufacturing system to produce a Operations
Routing flexibility enhancement product by alternative routes through the system capabilities
the amount of overall effort needed to increase Operations
manufacturing the capacity and capability of the capacity and
Expansion flexibility
enhancement manufacturing system when required capability
manufacturing the ability of a manufacturing system to be profitable Operations
Volume flexibility enhancement within a wide range of product output levels. capacity
manufacturing the ability of a manufacturing system to run Operations
operational Program flexibility enhancement virtually unattended for a long period of time. capabilities
abilities and skills that are common to most of the Multidisciplinary
operational work force of a manufacturing system allowing quick and polyvalent
Labor flexibility
replacement or interchange of labor as needed work force
internal logistics the capacity of an enterprise to have multiple delivery Customer
external Delivery flexibility enhancement options and schedules Satisfaction
logistics the capacity of a manufacturing firm to have multiple Reliable suppliers'
Supply flexibility enhancement suppliers and flexible delivery conditions network
the ability to perform quick maintenance and repairs Equipment and
Maintenance operational to machines and equipment, including infrastructure machinnery up
flexibility enhancement without substantially disrupting production processes time maximization
*F.F. Yanine, 2007
Requirement Source Flexibility Control Action Measure Strategic need
type type to generate of
/or objective
the flexibility flexibility being served
Managers actively review and Managers are responsive to the organization's needs Managerial
Management evaluate their practice and policies and to enterprise requirements, adjusting their actions responsiveness &
to ensure workforce responsiveness
and adapting their management style and company policy. leadership
Management Managers flexibilize command & The effectiveness of management actions and style in Managerial
flexibility control in the organization dealing with organizational needs and enterprise objectives effectiveness
Strategic goals & Managers strive to align The degree of coherence & effectiveness of strategic Operations &
Management Policies enterprise objectives goals in aligning with company policies and managerial business strategy
& management policies
style to meet enterprise objectives is a measure of flexibility.
Strategic goals & Reformulate business plans The ease and effectiveness with which an enterprise Enterprise
Management Policies and adapt operations can change its business and operations practices to adaptability to
flexibility to deal with changing scenarios adapt to changing business environments. changing conditions
organization & Organizational Structure Create a horizontal, The speed and effectiveness with which work flows thru Organizational
culture & Culture business process the organization and the responsiveness and dilligence performance and
flexibility driven organization. of workforce in dealing with everyday operations. effectiveness
organization & Organizational Structure Culture actively reflects The degree and extent to which enterprise culture and Structure & culture
culture & Culture Flexibility company values and goals structure support enterprise needs and objectives. strategic alignment
Enterprise Infrastructure Easy reconfigurable produc- Work places and storage facilities can easily be changed Operations
tion and storage facilities
and adapted to meet unexpected requirements.
Enterprise Infrastructure Infrastructure can easily change New processes and production lines can be implemented Operations
Flexibility to accomodate new processes without substantially disrupting production processes. flexibility
Enterprise Infrastructure Create versatile work spaces Work spaces and plant floor can easily adapt to accomo- Operations
Flexibility & production arrangements that date new equipment and/or relocate existing equipment to capacity and
easily accomodate new lines serve various production and operations requirements flexibility
organization & Organizational Structure Create multifunctional teams Employees are grouped in task forces, including workers Organization culture
culture & Culture Flexibility and interdepartamental roles work crosses departamental boundaries and hierarchies & structure flexibility
Strategic goals & Manage- Align company objectives with Enterprise needs and objectives and company policies easily Strategic alignment
ment Policies Flexibility business & operations practices adapt to clearly reflect strategic alignment and coherence. & max performance
New production technologies and
The high volume mass cutomization of products to meet ever Technology
automated manufacturing systems
changing customer needs and styles, plus the capacity of flexibility and
that allow large mass customization
processes to reconfigure themselves is a measure of flexibility adaptability
Technology Flexibility Technological versatility and New and flexible technologies that provide flexibility and Technology
internal enhancement adaptability to new and changing processes, business needs. flexibility
Management Managers actively seek feedback, Management's capacity to value and foster heterogeneity, Organizational
Flexibility value diversity and foster change learning and proactiveness within the organization to diversity and
to enhance organizational flexibility
enhance the workforce capacity and skills to handle change. flexibility
Management Managers are quick to adapt Management's capacity to be supportive, offer feedback Organizational
to change and provide support,
and guidance throughout the organization in order to create
commitment, satis-
leniency & guidance to workforce
an atmosphere of trust, commitment and loyalty to the firm faction and loyalty
Technology Flexibility
managerial internal
*F.F. Yanine, 2007
Fig. 4.2 Concrete examples of our control system approach to enterprise flexibility and the
strategic needs and objectives being served.
In Figure 4.3 below we show the metacontrollability of the manufacturing enterprise
system, represented by management and its actions upon the rest of the enterprise control
system elements. The model shows the elements’ interconnectedness and the flexibility
metrics linked to performance measurement compatibility. It is evident, by looking at the
sketch, that management is the key player in the controllability of the enterprise system,
and as we said earlier it is at the very top of the hierarchy within the five elements which
make up the control system of the manufacturing enterprise.
Management is itself the metacontrollability of the enterprise system, and as such it is
responsible for the other four elements. It is management’s responsibility to choose them
correctly and to elaborate on them in order to adequately support the enterprise needs and
The strategic options chosen by management, on the other hand, must clearly reflect the
needs and objectives of the company and if misalignments were to occur as identified by
the enterprise performance measurement system, appropriate actions ought to be taken, in
the form of control actions, in order to correct the problem and thus allow the enterprise
system to thrive.
*F.F. Yanine, 2007
Fig. 4.3 The metacontrollability of the manufacturing enterprise system, its
interconnectedness and the flexibility metrics linked to performance measurement
As the figure shows, enterprise needs and objectives, placed at the top of the hierarchy,
constitute the basic beacon which must guide the management’s efforts to engineer
enterprise flexibility at every level. Enterprise needs and objectives are clearly impacted by
all the elements in the control system, which in turn are controlled by management. Thus
we have termed management the metacontrollability of the enterprise.
Management is at the bottom of the top down model symbolizing the foundation (at the
base) of the model. Thus everything rests upon management shoulders and although the
other four elements are clearly linked within the enterprise and their action is systemic,
influencing enterprise flexibility in terms of their scope of operation and particular role in
the enterprise system, it is management which ultimately determines the other four and
their successful interaction as well as the dynamics taking place in the ladder comprised of
control actions determining flexibility; flexibility metrics linked to performance measures;
operations’ performance measurement system and finally the top of the ladder, enterprise
Enterprise needs and objectives
Operations’ performance
measurement system
Flexibility metrics linked to
performance measures
Control actions determining
enterprise flexibility
Strategic goals
and management
policies at all
structure and
Enterprise management
needs and objectives. Therefore we can say that enterprise flexibility, being a desired property
of the enterprise system, whose action is indeed systemic in nature, is strongly leveraged by
enterprise management and the success with which they can manage the different elements
which comprise the control system of the enterprise, including management itself.
The success of failure of the dynamics shown in ladder going up to enterprise needs and
objectives in the figure 4.3 is also management responsibility, therefore we may justly say that
management is after all the nervous system of the enterprise, and thus it is in charge of the
metacontrollability of the enterprise as a whole. This of course accounts for all the different
types of flexibility that we saw earlier and also for stability, all being desired properties of the
manufacturing enterprise.
Management determines and controls the control actions determining enterprise flexibility
at every level of the enterprise system. These in turn are used to elaborate the flexibility
metrics which are linked to performance measures and these metrics also provide feedback
to management in order to adjust and correct misalignments which may affect strategic
Flexibility metrics in turn are responsible for adequately supporting the Operations’
performance measurement system without which the control system would collapse and
management would become blind to enterprise strategic performance. Thus there must be
feedback between the two as in every other case in order for the system to learn and adjust
itself until it finds its right setting. Finally it is the Operations performance measurement
system which is closest to enterprise needs and objectives in the model, as it is clear that the
information being gathered through this performance measurement system will in turn
determine the management actions that are necessary, in terms of its role and hierarchy in the
enterprise control system as the metacontrollability of the enterprise, to guarantee alignment
and performance.
Although it is obvious that the remaining four elements of the enterprise control system
impact the satisfaction of the enterprise needs and objectives differently, they all contribute
to its sustainability and the degree of cohesion, integration and coherence in their operation
will make a difference between poor performance and overall rigidity of operations and
high performance, agile and highly flexible organizations which can easily and quickly
adapt to changing scenarios and perturbations.
4.4 Implementing flexibility metrics in terms of enterprise performance measures
Determining what to measure can take considerable effort when the right focus is not in
place. In order to build an efficient and effective enterprise control system, a measurement
system equally efficient and effective must be in place since as everyone knows, we can
not control what we can not measure. Data collection and processing systems for all
enterprise operations that are tied to flexibility metrics will have to be implemented to
produce the measures; everyone involved will have to be trained in using the systems and
measures at every level; and as the measures are used, some problems are sure to be
identified that will require changes to the system.
Certainly developing the appropriate measures to have the ability to determine if sales and
profit problems are caused by strategic options, operations, or both and how much of a
factor it is the flexibility factor in the equation is not an easy task. Perhaps the greatest
challenge faced when implementing flexibility metrics, in terms of enterprise performance
measurement systems, is changing an organization’s culture. We must not forget that
culture is one of the key elements of the control system itself, and therefore its adequate
disposition toward work flexibility and change must also be measured as well as measuring
how proactive and effective the work force is in terms of accomplishing enterprise
objectives that are closely linked to culture flexibility. This is of course a task that must be
realized by enterprise management which, as we saw earlier, is at the top of the hierarchy
in the enterprise control system, the control over the control if you will, and thus it is
responsible for the metacontrollability of the whole enterprise system.
Using performance measures requires managers and employees to change the way they
think and act. For most people, this is relatively easy, but for some, changing old beliefs
and habits is very difficult. Overcoming such problems requires strong leadership to
provide appropriate direction and support. The best measurement system in the world will
yield few benefits if the right knowledge, skills, abilities, and values are not developed in a
company. We must understand that an organization doesn’t just interface with a
measurement system; it must be part of the system itself. Therefore, we propose
elaborating concrete flexibility measures that are linked to the five fundamental elements
which comprise the enterprise controllability.
In order to have a good assessment of our enterprise control system performance in terms
of being able to act quickly and effectively to provide the appropriate measures of
flexibility and stability being required (control actions) by the enterprise, we have to
develop an adequate measurement system. If we are to measure flexibility in the
manufacturing enterprise, we have to make sure that appropriate flexibility metrics are
developed that are adequately linked to the strategic needs and objectives of the enterprise.
Hence we first have to make sure that we know what to measure in order to measure it
well. Developing and implementing effective measurement systems requires leadership,
commitment and hard work and we have to make sure that this effort will not go to waste.
Every company is different but one can start by looking at the core processes of the
company and how these processes performance which span throughout the enterprise, may
be affected (hindered) by flexibility problems ingrained in the organization, which can be
linked to factors belonging to the five basic elements which comprise the controllability of
the enterprise system, namely Management Flexibility (Harwood, 2004); Flexibility of
Strategic Goals and Management Policies; Flexibility of Organizational Structure and
Culture; Enterprise Infrastructure Flexibility, and Technology flexibility. A good example
of what we are proposing has already been done to some extent in the large business
reengineering wave that hit the United States in the 1990’s in an unrelenting quest to
achieve operational and business superiority over Japanese fierce competition, and which
is present still today although to a lesser degree and often times not targeting enterprise
flexibility directly as a goal in itself.
Hence, it is all too important for manufacturing enterprises to realize that enterprise
flexibility is a key catalyst of enterprise performance at the organizational, operational and
business level and that flexibility in itself is a goal that must be sought. It is also important
to understand that flexibility can not be added or installed as if it were an addition to
enterprise infrastructure. Flexibility must be engineered in the enterprise system by
developing and integrating the appropriate control capabilities in the control system itself,
the five basic elements which comprise the controllability of the enterprise. At the same
time, enterprise flexibility must clearly reflect the company’s strategic options since it is in
how well these are served that the degree and success of enterprise flexibility may
ultimately be measured. We believe that the benefits that may be obtained by achieving the
latter can be in part summarized as follows:
The ability to know what to enhance and what to prioritize in terms of the
organization, operations and business needs in order to align with enterprise
strategic options, making sure that these indeed represent the enterprise needs and
Early identification of problems with the elements which comprise the enterprise
control system and opportunities to correct them; the ability to reach the right
balance between stability and flexibility in the manufacturing enterprise: that which
allows for maximum enterprise performance without jeopardizing the system
Increased productivity, quality, and customer service at no extra cost to the
enterprise system. When there is perfect alignment of operations and strategic
options which effectively meet company objectives, the likelihood of having excess
flexibility or not enough of it is little.
A cohesive organization and a supporting culture working toward common goals.
Flexibility and stability are both desired properties of the enterprise system. They are both
determined by the enterprise control system, which in turn is comprised of the five
fundamental elements which, although acting differently, have an impact on enterprise
flexibility, as we explained earlier. Flexibility as well as stability is systemic, and thus
cannot be explained by isolated actions or relegated to a phenomenon that can be explained
by entropy, or worse to try to increase flexibility by resorting to additions in just one part
or another of the enterprise system alone without considering the dynamics and
interconnectedness of the enterprise system elements as a whole.
Management is responsible for handling the controllability of the system and therefore it is
the control over the control, which we have termed the metacontrollability of the
enterprise. Management is both, at the top of the hierarchy of the control system of the
enterprise and also at the bottom, representing its foundation. It is management which
determines and controls the actions determining enterprise flexibility or the lack of it at
every level of the enterprise system. These in turn will be used to elaborate the flexibility
metrics which are linked to performance measures of the enterprise and these metrics also
will provide feedback to management in order to adjust and correct misalignments which
may affect strategic options. Flexibility metrics are useful for adequately supporting the
Operations’ performance measurement system, without which the