Defining the Field of Reverse Logistics

Reverse logistics has gone by many different names over the years, but the field has now come into its own. In the past, some have stated that reverse logistics is a sub-set of supply chain management, while others have proposed that it is limited to returns or recycling.

Some associations have made their own definition of reverse logistics, yet no institution has created a research- based, consistent and logical definition.  To this end, research is being conducted at American Public University to create a Reverse Logistics Body of Knowledge (RLBOK), with the goal being to define the official standard of operational practices and theoretical concepts for the field.

The RLBOK examines the following eight recognized domains of reverse logistics applications and theory:

Domain 1 – Market Research
Reverse logistics is a market- driven process and must evolve dynamically through continuous improvement.  Reverse logistics is dedicated to embracing new technology and systems in order to meet the growing needs of the marketplace.
Domain 2 – Strategic Planning
A strategic plan for reverse logistics operations provides direction and guidance for how activities should be organized and coordinated. Understanding critical business issues and success factors allows an organization to develop tactical initiatives and decision models that can be used on an ongoing basis to achieve reverse logistics goals.
Domain 3 – Innovation
Successful logistical organizations cannot maintain long- term success without a process improvement cycle that boosts innovation. This domain creates a process framework that supports long- term success through innovation.

Domain 4 – Project and Process
Returns, recycling, recalls, and repackaging are all project- based activities that need to be connected with a common message and service.  Reverse logistics offers a common project platform that allows each of these reverse logistics issues to be addressed in a similar manner.

Domain 5 – Cost and Benefits
This domain defines how to build a cost/ benefit process that not only finds the direct costs, but also quantifies the indirect costs and savings that are realized by a successful reverse logistics organization.

Domain 6 – Communication
A reverse logistics organization exists to serve customers. Internal communication should mirror external communication.  In addition, the data and information associated with communication to the customer must be defined.

Domain 7 – Leadership
Effective leadership is essential for reverse logistics management.  Leadership research has shown that transformational leadership is effective during times of change; hence, reverse logistics management will focus on transformational leadership.

Domain 8 – Research Data
Data management is essential as material needs to be tracked full- circle.   Data protection measures that keep information private must be an essential aspect the process.

When completed, RLBOK will become the official standard for reverse logistics operations in the same manner as the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK) is the standard for project management.