The use of the term “mass customization” certainly seems catchy early in the 21st century. Some are using the expression when it really doesn’t apply to the business model that they have adopted.
In a prior post, I enumerated the attributes of mass customization. Mass customization is a distinct business paradigm with certain attributes just as mass production is a distinct business paradigm with its own set of attributes.
Mass customization is about producing an end product on demand (and, only after receipt of an order) based on a customer’s requirements that are derived from previously articulated and modularized set of features and options all the while producing that end-product with the same efficiency as a mass-produced product. Mass customization is an enterprise-wide business strategy that starts with customer input to drive order demand.
Too many “customizer” manufacturers focus on constructing a feature set in a silo separate from the rest of the organization and then rely on either the craft production paradigm or the engineer-to-order paradigm to produce the end product thus sacrificing profit and speed. Companies that do this really have not embraced mass customization, rather, they have embraced customization.
Neither craft production or engineer-to-order paradigms offer the efficiencies that permit an individual order configuration to be produced on demand with the same efficiency as a mass produced product.
Here is a quick view of how I see the different business paradigms having evolved over time:
Are there situations where a manufacturer might not want to reveal to the outside world that they are employing mass customization? Absolutely.
Customers at the high-end of the marketplace think that anything produced under any paradigm with the word “mass” in it is less personalized, less unique and can’t possibly offer superior value.
Under those circumstances, it would be best for a manufacturer to deemphasize the business paradigm under which a product is produced and emphasize the uniqueness and value the customer is getting. For example, there is a product configurator for the Bentley GTC Speed, a very high-end automobile that can hardly be characterized as a mass-produced car.
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.