Managing Reverse Knowledge Flows in Routine Replication Programs: The Case of Global Manufacturing ERP Template Rollout

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Abstract

Purpose: Acknowledging the key role of knowledge transfer as the primarily mechanism, through which firms replicate organizational routines, this paper addresses the role of reverse knowledge flows in routine replication programs and attempts identifying a set of mechanisms that could facilitate these knowledge flows. Furthermore, the article aims to provide a proposal for a structured approach to reverse knowledge flow management that would combine in the same framework (1) the deployment of routines in new contexts and (2) the collection, transformation, and redeployment of local knowledge.

Methodology: The applied methodology follows the interpretative research approach. It draws from a longitudinal study of a seven-year-long replication program, during which an ERP template has been deployed in twenty-five manufacturing sites and five regional offices of a leading multinational FMCG company. The main research method was participant observation complemented with interviews, project documentation, and e-mail communication analysis.

Findings: The paper shows that, in the course of multiple replications, the replicated template becomes subject to several adjustments in order to fit new requirements, eliminate observed shortcomings, and adopt learnings from previous deployment sites. The article further demonstrates that keeping such template enhancement process effective requires deliberate management of reverse knowledge flows, which maturity should grow in parallel to the scope of the program and number of replications. This means that reverse knowledge flows must increasingly base on well-established processes with assigned resources, clear responsibilities, and socio-material mechanisms. This is a prerequisite for the subsequent deployments and retrofits of an enriched template to become the key vehicle for the diffusion of local learnings on a company-wide scale.

Originality: This paper contributes to the literature on organizational routines by addressing the role of reverse knowledge flows in routine replication processes, proposing a structured approach to reverse knowledge flow management in routine replication programs, and presenting a maturity model for a reverse knowledge flow management system.

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