I consistently take the position that mass customization is a business paradigm just as mass production is a business paradigm. Some companies offering personalized or configured products are "customizers" and have not yet crossed the chasm into the mass customization business paradigm.
If you are a discrete manufacturer, what is it like to be a mass customizer? How do you know you’ve reached that state? From Chapter 4 of my book, Mass Customization: An Enterprise-Wide Business Strategy, here are the attributes of a mass customizer that matter most:
- Offers custom product configurations derived from standardized product modules or product modularity (or components or capabilities). This, of course, assumes that there has been a "product rationalization" effort to identify those essential options that the marketplace will require.
- Maintains a listing—usually within a product configurator—of standardized product modules as well as any rules for combining the product modules into fully configured products.
- Provides a means to seamlessly share the same understanding about product configurability across the enterprise (with customers, distributors, sales, order administration, engineering, manufacturing, and service).
- Extends the capability to create order configurations and explore alternatives to its customers and distributors (extended enterprise) via a product configurator. This product configurator allows customers to conduct a "what if" analysis looking at different product and pricing options. Ideally, the system should identify the lead time to obtain an order configuration.
[Note: Three things a customer really cares about are (1) what are my options, (2) how much is this configuration going to cost, and, (3) how long will it take to produce it? Truly effective systems need to address all of these issues.]
- Views the likelihood that any two order configurations would be identical as a coincidence.
- Builds configured orders only after receipt of an order—does not stock any finished products.
[Note: This is not to imply that there aren’t subassemblies and parts sitting on the shelf to support order demand. It means these parts aren’t allocated to specific orders until after an order is booked by the manufacturer.]
- Engineering is not involved in the creation of a bill of material to support individual order configurations.
- Order demand driven directly to manufacturing via a sales order.
- Engineering involved only when a new product module is needed or to finalize the engineering work on things that must be postponed until just before the order hits the factory. For example, engineering may need to confirm certain items prior to production commencing.
- Engineering defines "allowable" product configurations based on technical feasibility, not marketing or sales policy. This is important. You do not want to change the logic behind allowable or permissible configurations every time the marketing or sales philosophy changes. To do otherwise creates constant rework and churn.
- Engineering designs the product with product modularity in mind.
- Product management makes determinations about "saleable" product configurations.
- No people-dependency for expert knowledge about product configurations.
- A "mass customizer" needs to be a "progressive manufacturer."
Progressive Manufacturers infuse technology into all areas of their business to create sustainable competitive advantage by connecting the customer to the manufacturing process.
Source: David Brousell, Managing Automation, Progressive Manufacturing Summit 2006: 7 Rules to Win in a Global Market; emphasis added. The notion of being a "Progressive Manufacturer" is an incredibly important concept in terms of implementing mass customization. Each highlighted word embodies the essence of mass customization.
Can a company be a mass customizer and meet only a few of the attributes enumerated above? No. They are all critical.
These attributes also show why mass customization is really an enterprise-wide business opportunity, not a departmental challenge. The efficiencies of mass customization must flow across the entire enterprise as the opportunity is to create unique products with the same efficiency one would expect from a mass produced product.
Dave Gardner is a management consultant, speaker, author of Mass Customization: An Enterprise-Wide Business Strategy and blogger who resides in Silicon Valley. He helps his clients conquer the challenges that plague manufacturers of configurable products. He can be reached through his website at www.mass-customization-expert.com.