Review of Operations Management by Jones & Robinson
August in Edinburgh is book festival time, but also the time to review course text books and decide whether to switch to a new course text. The dominant operations textbook in the UK is Operations Management by Slack, Chambers & Johnston, first published by Pearson in 1995 and now into its sixth edition. Through its six editions the content has been revised and polished, the cases reviewed and online support materials improved. But it is starting to show its age, with poor coverage of technology and operational risk. It looks like its success, with a large user base of academics very familiar with its coverage, locks the text into its structure. Dropping a topic might alienate lecturers who are used to teaching that topic, radical restructuring might also temp-t them to find another text, and adding new topics adds to the cost of a book which already is priced just short of £50.
The size of Slack’s market makes it a tempting prospect for other academic publishers to launch titles they hope might address the weaknesses with Slack’s text displace it as the dominant text, or at least establish a niche in this market. This year Oxford have published a new prospective Slack-killer, imaginatively also titled Operations Management by Jones & Robinson. This book has all the elements that one expects with a core management textbook: full-colour printing, short cases, key point summaries and review questions, all for £8 less than the Slack text. The structure is logical, taking the reader through an introduction to operations, the managing of operations, the design of operations and operations strategies. The topics covered also are in many places more up-to-date than Slack, with a useful section on risk management with coverage of high reliability organizations. The mini-cases are clearly written and relevant. However I will not be adopting this book, and I find it hard to imagine many lecturers in other UK business schools adopting it because the main body of the text suffers from three fatal weaknesses. First, some concepts which many lecturers would see as being central are given coverage that is too cursory. For example, statistical process control is covered in a nine line paragraph and ERP systems in a single page. I guess this might have come about because the authors wanted to drop the topic but then reviewers asked for it to be included, but these sections are too short to provide any understanding in the reader. Second, some sections are either wrong or what I suppose might charitably be described as terminologically idiosyncratic. For example, certification and accreditation in management systems, like ISO9001, are conflated, and the definition of “open innovation” as “the use of markets to obtain and exploit new ways of doing things within an organisation” will only be clear to economics students and still is misleading. Third, the core text is shockingly badly edited, with frequent typos and very clumsy expression. The text is littered with unnecessary words, with “simply”, “somewhat”, “so-called” and “truly” being particular favourites of the authors. It reads like it was dictated and then not edited. Whoever at Oxford edited this text should be ashamed, as should the list of academics thanked in the acknowledgements for their reviewing of the text.
The text uses QR codes to link to supporting material, which sounds like a cool idea, but this is strangely based on Flash so I assume it does not work with iphones.
The main difficulty faced by lecturers is that increasingly students are resistant to spending over £40 on a textbook, so as the proportion taking my classes without the texts increases I put increasing weight on course websites and getting students to access online materials, which then further reduces the pressure on students to invest in a course text. The market for textbooks is squeezed by the growth of free open textbooks, for example through flatworldknowledge.com, and the ethically questionable sharing of pdf versions of commercial texts on file-sharing sites. It is very easy to find pdf copies of Slack’s textbook free online, so the access to the supporting web materials accessible to purchasers of paper copies starts to look like a very expensive luxury. Jones and Robinson’s textbook is clearly aimed at challenging the stable of texts by Slack and his colleagues, but with an even stronger UK focus. But as with other ostensible challengers, the need to fit with the courses of lecturers who use Slack et al seems to be dragging it back towards similar content, but not communicated as clearly. It is assumed that eventually a new text will replace Slack, but it may be that the cost escalation of colour printing, supporting multimedia and the challenge from open resources and piracy will mean that we are on the verge of an extinction event for the lumbering dinosaurs of management textbooks.