IDEAS home Printed from
   My bibliography  Save this paper

Centralization vs. Decentralization in a Multi-Unit Organization: A Computational Model of a Retail Chain as a Multi-Agent Adaptive System


  • Myong-Hun Chang

    (Cleveland State University)

  • Joseph Harrington

    (Johns Hopkins University)


This paper explores the effect of organizational structure - in terms of the allocation of authority - on the rate of innovation in multi-unit organizations such as retail chains and multi-plant manufacturers. A computational model is developed in which store managers continually search for better practices. In a decentralized organization, a store manager adopts a new practice if it raises her store's profit. Headquarters (HQ) is assumed to observe the new practice and then decides whether to disseminate it to other stores. In a centralized organization, a store manager who generates an idea that would raise her store's profit passes the idea up to HQ for approval. Due to lack of detailed information about stores' markets, HQ decides whether or not to mandate it across the chain on the basis of chain profit. Given that stores are assumed to have heterogenous markets, the obvious virtue to decentralization is that it gives authority to those who have the best information and this allows practices to be tailored to each market. What our analysis reveals, however, is the presence of an implicit cost to decentralization. Allowing stores the freedom to develop very different practices is shown to reduce the amount of inter-store learning; that is, the frequency with which one store's idea is of value to another store. By keeping stores near each other in store practice space, centralization enhances learning spillovers and, in some cases, this results in higher chain profit than is achieved under decentralization. We find that centralization outperforms when stores' markets are not too different, consumer demand is sufficiently sensitive to a store's practices, and markets are changing sufficiently rapidly over time.

Suggested Citation

  • Myong-Hun Chang & Joseph Harrington, 2000. "Centralization vs. Decentralization in a Multi-Unit Organization: A Computational Model of a Retail Chain as a Multi-Agent Adaptive System," Econometric Society World Congress 2000 Contributed Papers 0860, Econometric Society.
  • Handle: RePEc:ecm:wc2000:0860

    Download full text from publisher

    File URL:
    File Function: main text
    Download Restriction: no

    Other versions of this item:

    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Aghion, Philippe & Tirole, Jean, 1997. "Formal and Real Authority in Organizations," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 105(1), pages 1-29, February.
    2. Myong-Hun Chang & Joseph Harrington, 2002. "Decentralized Business Strategies in a Multi-Unit Firm," Annals of Operations Research, Springer, vol. 109(1), pages 77-98, January.
    3. Sah, Raaj Kumar & Stiglitz, Joseph E, 1986. "The Architecture of Economic Systems: Hierarchies and Polyarchies," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 76(4), pages 716-727, September.
    4. Julio J. Rotemberg, 1999. "Process- Versus Function-Based Hierarchies," Journal of Economics & Management Strategy, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 8(4), pages 453-487, December.
    5. Eric D. Darr & Linda Argote & Dennis Epple, 1995. "The Acquisition, Transfer, and Depreciation of Knowledge in Service Organizations: Productivity in Franchises," Management Science, INFORMS, vol. 41(11), pages 1750-1762, November.
    6. Barrie R. Nault, 1998. "Information Technology and Organization Design: Locating Decisions and Information," Management Science, INFORMS, vol. 44(10), pages 1321-1335, October.
    7. Cohen, Michael D., 1981. "The power of parallel thinking," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 2(4), pages 285-306, December.
    8. Krishnan S. Anand & Haim Mendelson, 1997. "Information and Organization for Horizontal Multimarket Coordination," Management Science, INFORMS, vol. 43(12), pages 1609-1627, December.
    9. repec:bla:joares:v:33:y:1995:i:2:p:205-229 is not listed on IDEAS
    10. Philippe Jehiel, 1999. "Information Aggregation and Communication in Organizations," Management Science, INFORMS, vol. 45(5), pages 659-669, May.
    11. Levinthal, Daniel & March, James G., 1981. "A model of adaptive organizational search," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 2(4), pages 307-333, December.
    12. Radner, Roy, 1993. "The Organization of Decentralized Information Processing," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 61(5), pages 1109-1146, September.
    13. Helmy H. Baligh & Richard M. Burton & Børge Obel, 1996. "Organizational Consultant: Creating a Useable Theory for Organizational Design," Management Science, INFORMS, vol. 42(12), pages 1648-1662, December.
    Full references (including those not matched with items on IDEAS)


    Citations are extracted by the CitEc Project, subscribe to its RSS feed for this item.

    Cited by:

    1. Chang, Myong-Hun & Harrington, Joseph Jr., 2006. "Agent-Based Models of Organizations," Handbook of Computational Economics,in: Leigh Tesfatsion & Kenneth L. Judd (ed.), Handbook of Computational Economics, edition 1, volume 2, chapter 26, pages 1273-1337 Elsevier.
    2. Desmarchelier, Benoît & Djellal, Faridah & Gallouj, Faïz, 2013. "Environmental policies and eco-innovations by service firms: An agent-based model," Technological Forecasting and Social Change, Elsevier, vol. 80(7), pages 1395-1408.
    3. Myong-Hun Chang & Joseph E. Harrington, Jr, 2003. "Multimarket Competition, Consumer Search, and the Organizational Structure of Multiunit Firms," Management Science, INFORMS, vol. 49(4), pages 541-552, April.
    4. Jan W. Rivkin & Nicolaj Siggelkow, 2003. "Balancing Search and Stability: Interdependencies Among Elements of Organizational Design," Management Science, INFORMS, vol. 49(3), pages 290-311, March.
    5. Jason Barr & Nobuyuki Hanaki, 2005. "Firm Structure, Search and Environmental Complexity," Working Papers Rutgers University, Newark 2005-007, Department of Economics, Rutgers University, Newark.
    6. Chowdhury, Sanjib, 2011. "The moderating effects of customer driven complexity on the structure and growth relationship in young firms," Journal of Business Venturing, Elsevier, vol. 26(3), pages 306-320, May.
    7. Giannoccaro, Ilaria, 2011. "Assessing the influence of the organization in the supply chain management using NK simulation," International Journal of Production Economics, Elsevier, vol. 131(1), pages 263-272, May.
    8. Lichtenthaler, Ulrich, 2010. "Organizing for external technology exploitation in diversified firms," Journal of Business Research, Elsevier, vol. 63(11), pages 1245-1253, November.
    9. He, Zhou & Wang, Shouyang & Cheng, T.C.E., 2013. "Competition and evolution in multi-product supply chains: An agent-based retailer model," International Journal of Production Economics, Elsevier, vol. 146(1), pages 325-336.
    10. Rezapour, Shabnam & Allen, Janet K. & Mistree, Farrokh, 2016. "Reliable product-service supply chains for repairable products," Transportation Research Part E: Logistics and Transportation Review, Elsevier, vol. 95(C), pages 299-321.
    11. Jerker. Denrell & Christina. Fang & Daniel A. Levinthal, 2004. "From T-Mazes to Labyrinths: Learning from Model-Based Feedback," Management Science, INFORMS, vol. 50(10), pages 1366-1378, October.
    12. Dennis Campbell & Frances Frei, 2011. "Market Heterogeneity and Local Capacity Decisions in Services," Manufacturing & Service Operations Management, INFORMS, vol. 13(1), pages 2-19, April.
    13. Kawai, Norifumi & Strange, Roger, 2014. "Subsidiary autonomy and performance in Japanese multinationals in Europe," International Business Review, Elsevier, vol. 23(3), pages 504-515.

    More about this item


    Access and download statistics


    All material on this site has been provided by the respective publishers and authors. You can help correct errors and omissions. When requesting a correction, please mention this item's handle: RePEc:ecm:wc2000:0860. See general information about how to correct material in RePEc.

    For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: (Christopher F. Baum) or (Christopher F. Baum). General contact details of provider: .

    If you have authored this item and are not yet registered with RePEc, we encourage you to do it here. This allows to link your profile to this item. It also allows you to accept potential citations to this item that we are uncertain about.

    If CitEc recognized a reference but did not link an item in RePEc to it, you can help with this form .

    If you know of missing items citing this one, you can help us creating those links by adding the relevant references in the same way as above, for each refering item. If you are a registered author of this item, you may also want to check the "citations" tab in your RePEc Author Service profile, as there may be some citations waiting for confirmation.

    Please note that corrections may take a couple of weeks to filter through the various RePEc services.

    IDEAS is a RePEc service hosted by the Research Division of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis . RePEc uses bibliographic data supplied by the respective publishers.