Structural flexibility: A new perspective on the design of manufacturing and service operations

Seyed M. Iravani*, Mark P. Van Oyen, Katharine T. Sims

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

189 Scopus citations


In this paper, we present a new perspective on flexibility in manufacturing and service operations by exploring a type of operational flexibility that we term "structural flexibility (SF)." We focus on strategic-level issues of how flexibility can be created by using multipurpose resources such as cross-trained labor, flexible machines, or flexible factories. The proposed structural flexibility method uses the structure of the capability pattern to generate indices that quantify the ability of a system to respond to variability in its environment. Simulations of serial and parallel queueing networks provide evidence that this index is useful in predicting the performance rank of alternative designs for implementing multifunctionality in the face of variability. The proposed methodology supports managerial insight into structural design of manufacturing and service systems at the strategic level.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)151-166
Number of pages16
JournalManagement Science
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 2005


  • Cross-training
  • Flexibility
  • Max flow algorithm
  • Serial and parallel production systems

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Strategy and Management
  • Management Science and Operations Research


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