An Empirical Investigation into Wicked Operational Problems
Thesis or dissertation
University of Exeter
Reason for embargo
confidentiality of data and sources
This thesis begins by considering the nature of research in Operations Management, the methods that are employed and the types of problems it addresses. We contend that as the discipline matures and it extends its boundaries the research challenges become more complex and the reductionist techniques of Operations Research become less appropriate. To explore this issue we use the concept of wicked problems. Wicked problems were developed by Rittel and Webber during the 1970’s. They suggest the existence of a class of problems which could not be solved using the techniques of Operations Research. They describe Wicked Problems using ten properties or characteristics, which, after a thorough review of their descriptions, we have condensed to six themes. We consider the current state of the “Wicked Problem” literature and have identified the paucity relating to Operations Management. Thus we develop our research question: “what are the characteristics of wicked operational problems?” We investigate this question using a single extended case study of an operation experiencing significant unresolved performance issues. We analyse the case using the tenets of systems thinking, structure and behaviour, and extend the empirical literature on wicked problems to identify the characteristics of wicked operational problems. The research indicates that elements of wicked problems exist at an operational level. The significance of this finding is that reductionist techniques to problem solving e.g. lean and six sigma may not be applicable to the challenges facing operational managers when confronted with the characteristics of a wicked operational problem.
PhD in Management Studies