Process modularity, supply chain responsiveness, and moderators: The Médecins Sans Frontières response to the Covid-19 pandemic

Félicia Saïah*, Diego Vega, Harwin de Vries, Joakim Kembro

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

13 Citations (Scopus)
106 Downloads (Pure)


The unprecedented scale of the Covid-19 pandemic has been a challenge for health supply chains around the world. Many international humanitarian organizations have had to ensure the continuity of their already complex development programs, while addressing their supply chain disruptions linked to the pandemic. Process modularity has frequently been advocated as a strategy to mitigate such disruptions, although empirical evidence regarding its impact on supply chain responsiveness and what moderates this impact is scarce. This exploratory research uses supply chain data analysis, qualitative content analysis, interviews, and a three-round Delphi study to investigate how Doctors without Borders (Médecins Sans Frontières; MSF) and its 151 missions employed process modularity during the Covid-19 pandemic. Our results show that despite severe disruptions, process modularity—based on a modular architecture, interfaces, and standards—has helped MSF maintain supply chain responsiveness. Specifically, it (1) enabled time-consuming, nonessential tasks to be skipped, (2) relieved internal and external bottlenecks, and (3) facilitated better allocation and prioritization. Our analyses also put forward eight moderators, structured in three dimensions (visibility, alignment, and resource orchestration), which can affect the impact of process modularity on supply chain responsiveness. We extend the literature on supply chain responsiveness and process modularity by presenting extensive empirical results suggesting that process modularity improves responsiveness in crisis situations, how it does so, and what moderates this impact. Our study thereby highlights the potential of this strategy and provides operationally relevant insights that could help organizations to implement or to review and redesign their process modularity.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1490-1511
JournalProduction and Operations Management
Issue number5
Early online date17 Feb 2022
Publication statusPublished - May 2023

Bibliographical note

The authors gratefully acknowledge Médecins Sans Frontières for their willingness to collaborate with us, as well as all MSF staff for their participation in the data collection process, interviews, and Delphi panel. A special thanks to the MSF Team: Stéphane Cavin, Bert Koelewijn, Anna Musielak, and Julie Pastor for their support to this research. The authors also thank Prof. Martin K. Starr for his constant guidance, as well as the coeditors of the special issue, the senior editor, and the three anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments and suggestions. Finally, the authors thank Prof. Gyöngyi Kovács, Prof. David B. Grant, and Prof. Luk Van Wassenhove for their insightful reviews and feedback.

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© 2022 The Authors.

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