Applying the Liverpool Agility Methodology to Manufacturing SMEs


Prof. Andy Lyons
Dr Hossein Sharifi
Prof. Hossam Ismail (XJTLU) ‌


Originally part of the Department of Engineering at the University, the Operations and Supply Chain Management Knowledge Platform (KP) came together as part of the Management School when it was formed in 2002. The group’s research into the concept of agility began in the late 1990s and primarily concerned the analysis of manufacturing responsiveness and the development of methodological approaches to address responsiveness issues within manufacturing environments.  The research provided significant impetus to the agility movement by presenting a conceptual model for the emerging theory and by setting a widely respected research agenda for the development of the agility theme.  Contributions by several KP members ultimately led to the development of the Liverpool Agility Method (LAM) and its seven steps (differentiation analysis, trend analysis, competitive positioning, target setting, agility growth options, agility planning, and implementation) as the principal vehicle for translating agility research into practice.

Applying the Research

The North West Regional Development Agency identified in 2009 that regional prosperity (GDP per head) was considerably below the UK average (86% of the national average in 2008) and that the principal reason for the gap was weak productivity performance where the North West level was 10% below the UK average.  Therefore the productivity of the North West’s manufacturing businesses is vital to the prosperity of the region and is a key priority when working to reduce the economic growth rate disparity between the North West and other regions of the UK.  Supporting a priority component of the regional strategy to reduce the economic growth rate disparity between the North West and other regions of the UK and elsewhere, the KP undertook an ambitious programme of work to apply the LAM in order to improve the productivity and resilience of the region’s manufacturing SMEs. Between 2008 and 2013, the widespread application of some or all of the seven steps of the LAM to the manufacturing operations and supply chain systems of over 75 SMEs throughout the North West region.  

Making a Difference

  • Regional impact: The SMEs were selected because of their high-growth potential and their presence in key, economy-driving sectors such as aerospace, automotive and precision engineering. The continued success of these SMEs is critical to the future success of the North West region. All continue to survive and prosper, with a combined annual revenue generation in excess of £1.25billion. The legacy benefit is that via the application of the LAM these companies have been future-proofed against market uncertainty and equipped with the means to respond to unexpected requests and events, new opportunities and changes to customer demand requirements.
  • Business impact: The application of the LAM at a senior level has meant changes in strategic positioning and direction in many of the SMEs.  The bespoke application of the LAM at each SME means that the exact strategic changes made are specifically tailored at each organisation.  At one SME time was spent developing an agile operations strategy alongside changes to working practices and quality systems.  At another, new organisational strategies were conceived and implemented in order for the organisation to more nimbly respond to, and routinely deal with, customer orders for higher-volume, lower-variety products and services.  At another firm an e-commerce strategy was developed which allowed the companies to have a much greater control of their online presence and provided vital new sales channels. 
  • Workforce impact: The impact of the LAM also reached into the wider workforce with effects that extend within and beyond the SMEs. First, entrepreneurial competencies and aspirations of owner-managers were shaped and re-invigorated from a wide range of mentoring, assisting and coaching activities. Second, direct employment effects in the form of jobs saved and secured are evident; for example, across the range of SMEs 31 new jobs have been created and 117 jobs have been safeguarded as a direct consequence of the group’s activities.