Top-Down, Bottom-Up, or Both? Toward an Integrative Perspective on Operations Strategy Formation

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Journal of Operations Management




Operations strategy is formed via complex processes that transpire in multiple directions at multiple organizational levels. While most previous studies focus on the “macro-level” process of strategy formation from the dominant top-down perspective, this study investigates the “micro-level” process of strategy formation that governs interactions among competitive priorities, objectives, and action plans within operations. Using 111 (59 top-down and 52 bottom-up) action plans collected from six German manufacturing plants, we build on Kim and Arnold's (1996) framework and propose an integrated process model of operations strategy formation that encompasses both top-down planning and bottom-up learning. We also identify a contingency factor that affects their balance: centralized versus decentralized organizational structure. Finally, based on the analysis of their respective strategic content, we provide evidence concerning the complementary roles of top-down and bottom-up action plans in operations strategy.