Second part of the article on Suggested
Topics for Dissertations and Thesis
Research Projects in Procurement
Management, Supply Chain Management,
Inventory Management, and Distribution
Management: By: Sourabh Kishore, Chief
Consulting Officer

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I am happy to present the second part of the
article on dissertation and thesis topic
development in the fields of Procurement
Management, Supply Chain Management,
Inventory Management, and Distribution
Management. This is an extension of our
original article in these fields, accessible
through the following link:

Link to original article on suggested Topics for
Dissertations and Thesis Research Projects in
Supply Chain Management and its associated
domains

This article explores many newer topics of
research in supply chain management and its
associated domains categorized under eight
broad research areas. The article largely covers
the research areas of lean and six sigma and
sustainability in supply chain management.
Each area presents opportunities for studying a
number of practices and the factor variables
(both mediators and moderators) associated
with it, and their interrelationships. The studies
proposed are mostly positivistic, deductive,
and quantitative employing inferential
statistical methods like ANOVA, MANOVA,
Multiple Regressions, and advanced
Multivariate Statistical Modelling and Analysis
comprising of Exploratory Factor Analysis
using Principal Component Analysis,
Confirmatory Factor Analysis, and Structural
Equation Modelling. Please visit our page on
Multivariate Statistical Modelling and Analysis
for further details on analysing and optimising
the measurement constructs. You may also
consider in touch programmes (action
research), organisational ethnography, in-depth
interviews, focus group discussions, and
phenomenology as appropriate qualitative
methods for deriving deeper knowledge about
the variables and their possible
interrelationships after completing the
quantitative part (I mean, employing
methodology triangulation using quantitative
data and analytics).The descriptions of the
areas and their associated practices are
presented as the following:

(A) Lean and Six Sigma in Supply Chain
Management:

Lean and six sigma are two philosophical
approaches that are focused on enhancing the
capabilities of an organization for achieving
quality excellence in cost effective ways. Lean
philosophy advocates optimum use of
resources, elimination of wastes, and costs
reduction. Six sigma advocates elimination of
defects and errors in a quality system in such a
way that defects per million of opportunities
shifts multiple sigmas (a sigma is the standard
deviation) away from the mean of a million
measurements of the target quality statistic in a
normal distribution curve. At the sixth sigma
from the mean of the target quality statistic, the
defects per million opportunities are only 3.4
and the accuracy level of the process task is
99.9999980%. This is called the six sigma
quality level. This target may not appear to be
feasible in many processes because one may
not be able to visualize the targeted mean of a
quality statistic in a million opportunities
accurately, and the targeted statistical mean of
the quality statistic in a million measurements
may be shifting periodically. Hence, the
philosophy of six sigma is not about achieving
this statistical quality target albeit is to achieve
a culture of listening to the voices of customers
(that is, collecting and analyzing data on the
concerns raised and feedbacks provided by the
customers) continuously, performing quality
measurements continuously, performing
continuous improvements, striving for
excellence, and data-driven statistical thinking.
The model for achieving these cultural changes
and the resulting systems and processes is
called DMAIC (define, measure, analyse,
improve, and control). Lean and six sigma
philosophies can be combined for achieving
excellence in supply chain management with
the help of the following practices:

1. Management commitment by setting
directions and allocation of funds and
resources
2. Monitoring and control by top management
3. Process reforms championships for managing
changes
4. Cost consciousness through skewing of the
costs and the expenses incurred towards the
goals aligned with the voices of customers
(concerns raised and feedbacks provided by
the customers), and the most essential business
objectives and goals
5. Quality consciousness and orientation in the
processes, tasks, and deliverables
6. Elimination of wastes: here wastes refer to
the processes and tasks that poorly or do not
contribute to the primary business objectives
such as shareholders' wealth creation, customer
satisfaction, productivity, innovation,
efficiency, sustainability, and compliance
7. Elimination of defects: here defects refer to
deviations from requirement specifications in
execution of processes and their tasks
8. Multi-skilling of employees for expanding
their working domains
9. Aligning every policy, process, and tasks to
the voices of customers
10. Lean consumption of internal resources
11. Lean consumption of external and natural
resources
12. Lean strategies of operations (like,
maintaining transit warehouses, reducing
transportation size for better volume
consumption per trip, just-in-time production,
just-in-time inventory replenishment,
demand-linked lean distribution, etc.)
13. Strategic supplier relationships
14. Vendor-managed inventory
15. Just-in-time
16. Cellular manufacturing design (as against
continuous flow assembly lines design)
17. Demand pull strategy
18. Flexible and agile capabilities in the final
stages of production (like, delaying assembly of
finished products until the orders have been
confirmed)
19. Toyota Production System (TPS) and Total
Quality Management (TQM) principles, and
their relationships with lean and six sigma
philosophies
20. Competencies and capabilities to process
small / tiny batches of orders in large numbers
with significantly varying specifications as
demanded by the customers

The above list is a representative set of
practices that influence planning, adopting,
implementing, operating, and controlling lean
and six sigma systems and processes following
their philosophies. Each of these practices may
be supported by a number of underlying factor
variables acting as mediators and moderators.
One may consider studying these practices and
their variables separately through in touch
programmes (action research), organisational
ethnography, in-depth interviews, focus group
discussions, and phenomenology as in
qualitative studies or investigating their
interrelationships through hypothesis testing
and testing of structural constructs (complex
relationships models) in quantitative studies.
This is a vast research area that requires
significant contributions by students and
professionals. The existing empirical
knowledge of lean and six sigma in supply
chain management is inadequate requiring
significant research efforts as it is very valuable
for achieving quality excellence in cost
effective ways. Please visit our page on
Multivariate Statistical Modelling and Analysis
for further details on analysing and optimising
the measurement constructs.

(B) Sustainable Supply Chain Management:

Many scholars have attempted to derive
definitions of sustainability. However, the
stereotyped outcomes of such research studies
have evolved a modern theory that there
cannot be a single most valid scientific
definition of sustainability. Hence,
sustainability is viewed as a framework of three
large areas interacting with each other for
ensuring that humanity-centric problems that
can challenge the long-term survival of
humanity can be identified and addressed.
This framework is widely referred as the Triple
Bottom Line (TBL), which comprises of three
large areas: Economics, Environment, and
Empowerment. Some literatures also refer to it
as the Triple-E model. The practices under the
three areas in the Triple Bottom Line / Triple-E
model pertaining to supply chain management
are the following:

Economics:

1. Enhancing the role of supply chain
competencies in achieving business
performance
2. Effective management of financial risks of
supply chain management
3. Enhancing cost effectiveness by reducing
costs and improving productivity
4. Enhanced effectiveness and efficiency of
manufacturing plants
5. Enhancing the accuracy and timeliness of
supplies and demands forecasting
6. Enhanced effectiveness and efficiency of
procurement, production, logistics,
transportation, and distribution
7. Enhanced controls on inventory
management to meet demands effectively
8. Eliminating dysfunctional phenomena, like
order rationing, beer gaming, and bullwhip
effect
9. Implementing activity-based costing in
supply chain management
10. Keeping the variance of key performance
metrics within the tolerance limits

Environmental:

1. Checking of and reducing the depletion of
critical atmospheric layers
2. Measuring and reducing the carbon footprint
on transportation channels caused by
movements of freight ships, commercial
vehicles, and freight airplanes
3. Measuring and reducing greenhouse
emissions that may be aiding the ongoing
global warming and related climate changes
4. Implementing green standards in the
processes of all the echelons of a supply chain
5. Exploring, adopting, and implementing
global standards for handling of hazardous
materials
6. Measuring and reducing harmful radiations
in a supply chain causing hazards to people,
plants, and species
7. Lean approach towards consumption of
natural resources
8. Measuring and reducing pollutions of all
forms
9. Taking appropriate actions for preventing
harms caused to species and biodiversity
10. Applying appropriate green labelling and
green instructions on the packages in transit,
storage, and distribution

Empowerment:

1. Creating employment opportunities for the
local communities in the supply chain
2. Developing healthy relationships with the
local communities affected by the operations of
a supply chain
3. Creating employment opportunities for the
displaced people and expatriates travelling
long distances in search of well being
4. Identifying and eliminating all possible
unfair employment practices
5. Exploring, adopting, and implementing
global standards for occupational health and
safety and labour management practices
6. Exploring, adopting, and implementing
global standards for protection of workers
when exposed to harsh working conditions
7. Eliminating gender inequality
8. Eliminating corruption and money
laundering practices
9. Multi-skilling of employees for building an
efficient workforce
10. Eliminating child labour

The triple bottom line practices presented
above form a representative set, which can be
expanded through extended review of
literatures. Each of these practices may be
supported by a number of underlying factor
variables acting as mediators and moderators.
One may consider studying these practices and
their variables separately through focus group
discussions and interviews in qualitative
studies or investigating their interrelationships
through hypothesis testing and testing of
structural constructs (complex relationships
models) in quantitative studies. This is a vast
research area that requires significant
contributions by students and professionals.
Latest studies have linked lean and agile
practices and lean six sigma philosophies with
sustainability practices of supply chain
management. Hence, the practices and their
corresponding factor variables in research areas
A and B (explained above) can be combined in
the same studies. You should be careful not to
overload your study with too many practices
and their factor variables. I suggest keeping the
focus on one independent practice and one
dependent practice in a master research. As a
ballpark, such topics may comprise of six to
twelve factor variables in their initial structural
theoretical constructs (called initial
measurement models). At PHD level, you may
choose two independent and two dependent
practices in your topic design. As a ballpark,
such topics may comprise of fifteen to
twenty-five factor variables in their initial
structural theoretical constructs. These
variables may include both the mediators and
the moderators. Please visit our page on
Multivariate Statistical Modelling and Analysis
for further details on analysing and optimising
the measurement constructs.

Another emerging area in sustainable supply
chain management is "market-orientation of
sustainability capabilities for achieving
competitive advantages". A number of studies
have been conducted in past five years but this
area is so much complex and in demand that
many new studies can be designed. The
fundamental question is raised by the business
stakeholders of a company: what is the return
on investments on sustainability for a business?
The economics area of triple bottom line model
addresses this question to a good extent, but
answers need to be explored in the
environment and empowerment areas, as well.
Recent studies are gradually building the
theoretical foundation but a lot of new studies
are desired in this area.

(C) Sustainable Procurement:

Normally, sustainable procurement should
have been a part of sustainable supply chain
management. However, this research area is
studied separately because sustainable
procurement has been standardized in the form
of a structured and organized framework
included in the legal and regulatory systems for
public procurement in UK, EU, and Australia
based on the research and analysis by
Sustainable Procurement Task Force (SPTF) of
HM Government (UK), Department of
Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs (DEFRA,
UK), United Nations Development Programme
(UNDP), professional designs (such as IBM's
Maturity Model for Sustainable Procurement
and INSEAD report on sustainable
procurement design), and large number of
academic research studies. Sustainable
procurement largely follows the lean and agile
designs and the triple bottom line model of
sustainability. The differences in sustainable
procurement as compared to sustainable supply
chain management are the following:

1. There is a structured and organised legal and
regulatory framework for sustainable
procurement in place.
2. Every government and public sector
organisation is expected to maintain a complete
documented standard for sustainable
procurement.
3. The documented standard should comprise
of organisational strategies and policies,
operating processes and tasks, controls, criteria
for decision-making, information systems, and
all the additional documentation of contracts,
records, communications, and suppliers'
compliance reports.
4. The life cycle of each sustainable
procurement project is defined and published.
5. There are clear guidelines defined by DEFRA
and UNDP on measuring sustainability in the
entire raw materials acquisition, production,
packaging, storing, transportation, and
distribution life cycle operated by suppliers.
6. The guidelines also include measures,
indicators, and measurement methods for
suppliers' sustainability auditing.
7. All the internal and supplier audit and
assessment records and related compliance
reports are published.
8. The concept of framework agreements is
implemented as a part of the sustainable
procurement practices.

The students may like to study the
effectiveness of the above practices in public
sector and government organisations through
qualitative studies involving in touch
programmes (action research), organisational
ethnography, in-depth interviews, focus group
discussions, and phenomenology. In addition,
the research topics in sustainable procurement
may be designed to cover the following:

1. Various practices and factor variables related
to the DEFRA and UNDP standards for
sustainable procurement
2. Performance measures, indicators, and
performance measurement methods in product
lifecycle performance assessment and
sustainable procurement standards
3. Supplier auditing and assessment
4. Sustainable procurement life cycle planning,
implementation, monitoring, control, and
reporting
5. Various designs and implementation of
framework agreements
6. Practices and their factor variables related to
sustainable procurement effectiveness and
efficiency
7. Strategic supplier relationships; role of
suppliers in effective sustainable procurement
8. Economics of sustainable procurement
9. Market orientation of sustainable
procurement
10. Competitive advantages achieved because
of sustainable procurement practices
11. Excellence in processes and tasks related to
sustainable procurement
12. Continuous improvements in sustainable
procurement through six sigma

Currently, this research area has been
addressed by a number of qualitative studies
following in-depth interviews, focus group
discussions, and critical literature analysis. This
research area requires a number of quantitative
studies for investigating the interrelationships
between practices and their factor variables. As
recommended above, master studies may
comprise of one independent practice and one
dependent practice, and their corresponding
factor variables; and PHD studies may
comprise of two independent and two
dependent practices, and their corresponding
factor variables. Please visit our page on
Multivariate Statistical Modelling and Analysis
for further details on analysing and optimising
the measurement constructs.

(D) Sustainable Logistics Capabilities for
Industrial Engineering Excellence in
Production, Transportation & Warehousing,
and Distribution:

Sustainable logistics capabilities study is a part
of sustainable supply chain management.
However, there are many research topics
related to industrial engineering in achieving
sustainable logistics, which may not be covered
in the triple bottom line framework studies
under sustainable supply chain management.
The following is a representative list of topics
on industrial engineering excellence for
sustainable logistics capability development in
the fields of production, transportation,
warehousing, and distribution:


1. Sustainability in different phases of plant
logistics operations
2. Impact of sustainability on logistics costing
(such as lot quantity, inventory carrying,
transportation and warehousing, and order
processing costs)
3. Sustainability in reverse logistics for returns,
warranty claims, and recycling
4. Sustainability in manufacturing cycle, jobs,
buffering, and assembly planning
5. Sustainability in enterprise resources
planning
6. Sustainability in materials requirements
planning (MRP II)
7. Sustainability in inter-stage material feeds,
job preparation tasks, buffers, and machine
operations
8. Sustainability in management of loading /
unloading areas, docking stations, internal
transportation, spaces and cubes, storage and
retrieval systems (like, conveyor belts), heating,
cooling, boilers, water circulation, power
supplies, power distribution, pipelines and
valves, other similar industrial systems, and the
end-to-end infrastructure of machines and tools
9. Sustainability in transportation networking
management and vehicle routing (both internal
and external)
10. Sustainability in configurations and
assembly of finished products
11. Sustainability in safety stock and forecasting
management
12. Sustainability in managing arrivals,
departures, and internal lead times of transit
buffers
13. Sustainability in procurement planning and
inventory replenishment
14. Sustainability in assembly and disassembly
networks
15. Sustainability in third party and fourth
party logistics management and in vendor
managed inventory management


Many more topics of sustainability in industrial
engineering excellence can be added. ISO
14000 series standards, OHSAS 18000 series
standards, and many academic studies cover
about sustainability in industrial engineering
excellence. These topics can be researched
through detailed process modelling, process
layout study, system dynamics modelling, and
Taguchi's method. Some of the tools
recommended for these studies are ARENA,
VENSIM, MATLAB, and Taguchi's templates
.

Please feel free to contact us to get
recommendations of your research topics or
discuss the research topic you have chosen.


Please contact us at consulting@etcoindia.co
or consulting@etcoindia.net to discuss your
topic or to get ideas about new topics
pertaining to your subject area.
Please contact us at
consulting@etcoindia.co or
consulting@etcoindia.net to
discuss your topic or to get
ideas about new topics
pertaining to your subject
area.
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