A Review of Production and Operations Management Research on Outsourcing in Supply Chains: Implications for the Theory of the Firm

Andy A. Tsay, John V. Gray, In Joon Noh, Joseph T. Mahoney

Research output: Contribution to journalReview article


This paper reviews the state of the art in Productions and Operations Management (POM) academic research regarding outsourcing in supply chain contexts. We first acknowledge the “Theory of the Firm” (ToF), the venerable and vast body of thought regarding where the firm draws the boundary between what it performs in-house and what it outsources. Despite the clear linkage between outsourcing and POM, the ToF literature is most closely associated with the fields of strategy and economics. This disconnect might in part be due to a difference in theoretical lenses and terminology, which we address for the POM audience by providing a ToF tutorial. Our review of publications by the POM community from 2000 to 2016 includes a framework that organizes the in-scope papers and a structured summary of each work. We partition the research into empirical/conceptual and analytical sub-literatures, each of which gets its own critical assessment and discussion of open opportunities. Along the way, we articulate the features of the POM lens that distinctively position POM researchers to contribute further to the ToF, a convergence which we hope to encourage through this study. A deeper conversation among strategy, economics, and POM would enrichen the rigor and the relevance of each field.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1177-1220
Number of pages44
JournalProduction and Operations Management
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 2018



  • Theory of the Firm
  • make-vs.-buy
  • outsourcing
  • vertical integration

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Management Science and Operations Research
  • Industrial and Manufacturing Engineering
  • Management of Technology and Innovation

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