Production smoothing and the bullwhip effect

Robert L. Bray, Haim Mendelson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

40 Scopus citations


The bullwhip effect and production smoothing appear antithetical because their empirical tests oppose one another: production variability exceeding sales variability for bullwhip, and vice versa for smoothing. But this is a false dichotomy. We distinguish between the phenomena with a new production smoothing measure, which estimates how much more variable production would be absent production volatility costs. We apply our metric to an automotive manufacturing sample comprising 162 car models and find 75% smooth production by at least 5%, despite the fact that 99% exhibit the bullwhip effect. Indeed, we estimate both a strong bullwhip (on average, production is 220% as variable as sales) and robust smoothing (on average, production would be 22% more variable without deliberate stabilization). We find firms smooth both production variability and production uncertainty. We measure production smoothing with a structural econometric production scheduling model, based on the generalized order-up-to policy.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)208-220
Number of pages13
JournalManufacturing and Service Operations Management
Issue number2
StatePublished - Mar 1 2015


  • Bullwhip effect
  • Demand signal processing
  • Generalized order-up-to policy
  • Martingale model of forecast evolution
  • Production smoothing

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Strategy and Management
  • Management Science and Operations Research


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