When should a “customizer” adopt “mass customization?”

From the perspective of manufacturing products, it is one thing to be a “customizer” and quite another to be a “mass customizer.” Here are some important perspectives for business leaders.



The other day, an executive asked me “at what revenue level
does it make sense to adopt mass customization to improve business execution?”  From the perspective of manufacturing
products, it is one thing to be a “customizer” and quite another to be a “mass
customizer.” Here’s how business leaders need to think about this issue.

It is possible to produce customized products with
inefficiencies that only grow as revenue and product variety increase.  The level at which a company performance “hits
the wall” can vary greatly starting at $10, $20 or $50 million revenue level or
a revenue level 10 or 20 times these amounts. 
If a manufacturer knows that revenue and product variety will only
increase over time, the best practice is to proactively address the situation by
embracing mass customization.

Leaders in manufacturing companies need to understand a few key
thoughts about “mass customization:”


  • “Mass customization” is a business paradigm for
    producing customized products based on a specific customer order with the same efficiency
    as a mass-produced product.
  •  A mass customized product is driven by customer requirements
    based on previously rationalized product features and options. Products are only
    produced for a specific customer order, not for a marketplace or for finished
    goods inventory.

  • Mass customization—an organizing principle for
    manufacturing companies—can be applied to manufacturers producing customized
    products under the engineer to order, configure to order, assemble to order,
    build to order, and make to order business paradigms. 

  • A manufacturer is not a mass customizer simply
    because they produce customized products.

Here are some important signs indicating the need for
adopting mass customization:

  •  Company profits erode as demand for customized
    order configurations increases.
  •  Customers presently cannot see first-hand what
    order configuration possibilities exist.
  •  Customers learn after they’ve placed orders that
    their order cannot be produced.
  •  Manufacturers end up giving away features and
    options just to make orders complete.
  •  Engineering is mission critical to validating
    order configurations and supporting production.
  •  When it comes to expert knowledge about what
    order configurations can be produced and how they can be produced, the
    manufacturer is people-dependent rather than process-dependent.
  •  There is no central repository of expert
    knowledge about what product configurations can be produced that is shared with
    those quoting and selling products that aligns with the understanding at
  • There is no business process owner for making
    decisions about and managing the addition of new features and options into the offerings.
  • There is an in-house process bottleneck in terms
    of validating order configurations.
  • Customer deliveries are often late based on
    customer expectations by days, weeks or months.
  • After receipt of an order, there is no
    “seamlessness” to the process of producing the order—there are many back and
    forth rework loops rather than steady, forward progress.

It is always preferable to initiate a mass customization
transformation to ameliorate the operational and financial challenges
associated with product configurability before a leadership team is forced to
react to it.  I’ve yet to have a client
who has done that. Most wait until the pain is excruciating.

I’d love to hear what you
think about this.



Dave Gardner is a management consultant, speaker,
author of 
Mass Customization: An Enterprise-Wide Business
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


About the author

Dave Gardner is a management consultant, speaker, blogger and author based in Silicon Valley. He's been in the front row for the birth and evolution of Silicon Valley, the innovation capital of the world