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Benefits of Skill Chaining in Serial Production Lines with Cross-Trained Workers


  • Wallace J. Hopp

    () (Department of Industrial Engineering and Management Sciences, Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois 60208-3119)

  • Eylem Tekin

    () (Department of Operations Research, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, North Carolina 27599-3180)

  • Mark P. Van Oyen

    () (Department of Information Systems and Operations Management, Loyola University Chicago, 25 East Pearson Street, Chicago, Illinois 60611-2196)


To gain insight into the potential logistical benefits of worker cross-training and agile workforce policies, we study simple models of serial production systems with flexible servers operating under a constant work-in-process (CONWIP) release policy. Two important and interrelated issues are: (a) how to decide which skill(s) are strategically most desirable for workers to gain, and (b) how to coordinate these workers to respond dynamically to congestion. We address these by considering two cross-training strategies: a straightforward capacity-balancing approach, which we call cherry picking (CP), and an innovative overlapping zone strategy that we call skill chaining. Our comparison shows that skill-chaining strategies have the potential to be robust and efficient methods for implementing workforce agility in serial production lines.

Suggested Citation

  • Wallace J. Hopp & Eylem Tekin & Mark P. Van Oyen, 2004. "Benefits of Skill Chaining in Serial Production Lines with Cross-Trained Workers," Management Science, INFORMS, vol. 50(1), pages 83-98, January.
  • Handle: RePEc:inm:ormnsc:v:50:y:2004:i:1:p:83-98

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Emil Zavadlav & John O. McClain & L. Joseph Thomas, 1996. "Self-Buffering, Self-Balancing, Self-Flushing Production Lines," Management Science, INFORMS, vol. 42(8), pages 1151-1164, August.
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    Cited by:

    1. Chou, Mabel C. & Chua, Geoffrey A. & Teo, Chung-Piaw, 2010. "On range and response: Dimensions of process flexibility," European Journal of Operational Research, Elsevier, vol. 207(2), pages 711-724, December.
    2. Down, Douglas G. & Karakostas, George, 2008. "Maximizing throughput in queueing networks with limited flexibility," European Journal of Operational Research, Elsevier, vol. 187(1), pages 98-112, May.
    3. Seyed M. R. Iravani & Bora Kolfal & Mark P. Van Oyen, 2007. "Call-Center Labor Cross-Training: It's a Small World After All," Management Science, INFORMS, vol. 53(7), pages 1102-1112, July.
    4. Corominas, Albert & Pastor, Rafael & Plans, Joan, 2008. "Balancing assembly line with skilled and unskilled workers," Omega, Elsevier, vol. 36(6), pages 1126-1132, December.
    5. Jörn Grahl & Michael Schneider & David Francas, 2010. "A Problem-Specific and Effective Metaheuristic for Flexibility Design," Working Papers 1001, Gutenberg School of Management and Economics, Johannes Gutenberg-Universität Mainz, revised 28 Jan 2010.
    6. Valeva, Silviya & Hewitt, Mike & Thomas, Barrett W. & Brown, Kenneth G., 2017. "Balancing flexibility and inventory in workforce planning with learning," International Journal of Production Economics, Elsevier, vol. 183(PA), pages 194-207.
    7. Olivella, Jordi & Nembhard, David, 2016. "Calibrating cross-training to meet demand mix variation and employee absence," European Journal of Operational Research, Elsevier, vol. 248(2), pages 462-472.
    8. Schneider, Michael & Grahl, Jörn & Francas, David & Vigo, Daniele, 2013. "A problem-adjusted genetic algorithm for flexibility design," International Journal of Production Economics, Elsevier, vol. 141(1), pages 56-65.
    9. Sennott, Linn I. & Van Oyen, Mark P. & Iravani, Seyed M.R., 2006. "Optimal dynamic assignment of a flexible worker on an open production line with specialists," European Journal of Operational Research, Elsevier, vol. 170(2), pages 541-566, April.
    10. Costa, Alysson M. & Miralles, Cristóbal, 2009. "Job rotation in assembly lines employing disabled workers," International Journal of Production Economics, Elsevier, vol. 120(2), pages 625-632, August.
    11. Henao, César Augusto & Ferrer, Juan Carlos & Muñoz, Juan Carlos & Vera, Jorge, 2016. "Multiskilling with closed chains in a service industry: A robust optimization approach," International Journal of Production Economics, Elsevier, vol. 179(C), pages 166-178.
    12. Legros, Benjamin & Jouini, Oualid & Dallery, Yves, 2015. "A flexible architecture for call centers with skill-based routing," International Journal of Production Economics, Elsevier, vol. 159(C), pages 192-207.
    13. Tianhu Deng & Zuo-Jun Max Shen, 2013. "Process Flexibility Design in Unbalanced Networks," Manufacturing & Service Operations Management, INFORMS, vol. 15(1), pages 24-32, April.
    14. repec:spr:queues:v:87:y:2017:i:3:d:10.1007_s11134-017-9543-0 is not listed on IDEAS
    15. Michael W. Busch, 2007. "ZP-Stichwort: Cross Training," Metrika: International Journal for Theoretical and Applied Statistics, Springer, vol. 18(2), pages 223-230, August.
    16. Seyed M. R. Iravani & Vijayalakshmi Krishnamurthy, 2007. "Workforce Agility in Repair and Maintenance Environments," Manufacturing & Service Operations Management, INFORMS, vol. 9(2), pages 168-184, January.
    17. Tanrisever, Fehmi & Morrice, Douglas & Morton, David, 2012. "Managing capacity flexibility in make-to-order production environments," European Journal of Operational Research, Elsevier, vol. 216(2), pages 334-345.
    18. White, Sheneeta W. & Badinelli, Ralph D., 2012. "A model for efficiency-based resource integration in services," European Journal of Operational Research, Elsevier, vol. 217(2), pages 439-447.
    19. Gnanlet, Adelina & Gilland, Wendell G., 2014. "Impact of productivity on cross-training configurations and optimal staffing decisions in hospitals," European Journal of Operational Research, Elsevier, vol. 238(1), pages 254-269.
    20. Huo, Baofeng & Ye, Yuxiao & Zhao, Xiande & Shou, Yongyi, 2016. "The impact of human capital on supply chain integration and competitive performance," International Journal of Production Economics, Elsevier, vol. 178(C), pages 132-143.

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    cross-training; workforce; agile production; CONWIP;


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