Guest article: Why Mass Customization Fails

A Guest article by Ben Moore & Clint Lewis

Adapted from their book „The Consumer’s Workshop: The Future of American Manufacturing

Ben Moore is the Founder and President of Agent Technologies, Inc. a firm specializing in eCommerce 4 Manufacturing (sm) through manufacturing consultants and software applications. His prior experience has included managing global software projects with Procter & Gamble and leading the e-Commerce initiatives.

For over 17 years Clint Lewis was instrumental in the start up and expansion of many product lines at Procter & Gamble such as Pampers, Rely, and Luvs. Clint is the Founder and President of Lewis Group Consultants (LGC), an operations and technical manufacturing consultancy with a business philosophy that centers on „Maximizing the Merger of People and Machinery.“

We all know that Mass customization aims to provide goods and services that meet individual customers‘ requirements with near mass production efficiency. We also know the importance of Systemization, the process of defining what range of products will be made and what range of production processes will be employed and Standardization, the process of defining what specific products will be made and what specific production techniques will be used to make these products.

We even know how to build product configurators and structure the product choices we present to the customer. Since we know all these things, then why after the incredible financial justification has been made that many mass customization/product configuration projects fail and/or don’t provide the anticipated return on investment? What is typically missed is the HUMAN FACTOR.

No matter how great the systemization, standardization, product configuration implementations are, it still requires PEOPLE to run the system. Most of these major technology projects give more emphasis on the technology than the people and hence are more likely to fail and/or underperform.

I know what you are thinking…We provided customized training so the workforce would know how to use our product. However, systems that transform a company require much more than just training, but changing how the workforce actually works together. People can MAKE a system work or people can LET a system fail. Yes, the system NEEDS people and people can’t be managed like things….they must be led, engaged and energized.

Now how do you engage your workforce (which is typically our largest ongoing costs) to MAKING your systems work. This is not a foreign concept, as many of today’s leading corporations discovered many years ago, the key is creating an environment where employees are:

Valued: Employees are not only fairly compensated but also routinely solicited for their ideas regarding day-day business activities, growth opportunities and innovative concepts.

Empowered: This environment flourishes as a result of an “institutionalized” work system that actively recruits, hires and develops people who demonstrate superior people, technical and leadership skills. Workers are expected to make keys decisions at the lowest possible level and are accountable for results. They make production, quality and improvement decisions. Teams police each other and develop their own team and individual improvement strategies.

Educated: Workers are immersed in the continuous improvement philosophy from day one. They are provided “state of the business” information in a timely fashion both through their own initiative as well as through formal business discussions. They are provided the most current technology training and also given the necessary tools to allow them to effectively utilize this training.

Stakeholders: Simply stated, team members execute the running of the day-day business as though they are the primary owners. Their philosophy is to always provide a product or service that is consumer focused and as consumers, they would be first to purchase.

Sounds so simple….but it’s not. Some companies can’t make this change because of the culture that has been setup within the company. There is a science to setting up these types of systems to support major systematic changes within an organization. The answer to the future of American Manufacturing and manufacturing in all developed countries is full utilization of each human resource due to the global pressures from lower cost workforces around the world.

For a practitioner’s guide on implementing a major initiative like mass customization within an organization, read Ben and Clint’s book – The Consumer’s Workshop.

Context: Interview wit the authors.

By | 2018-06-14T12:55:27+00:00 März 12th, 2008|Failures and Flaws, General, Guest Articles|

About the Author:

Frank T. Piller is a Co-Director of the MIT Smart Customization Group at the MIT Media Lab, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, USA, and a chair professor of management at the Technology & Innovation Management Group of RWTH Aachen University, Germany, one of Europe’s leading institutes of technology. Before entering his recent position in Aachen, he worked at the MIT Sloan School of Management (2004-2007) and has been an associate professor of management at TUM Business School, Technische Universitaet Muenchen. Frequently quoted in The New York Times, The Economist, and Business Week, amongst others, Frank is regarded as one of the leading experts on strategies for customer-centric value creation, like mass customization, personalization, and innovation co-creation. His recent analysis of the crowdsourcing business model “Threadless” (co-authored with Susumu Ogawa), an innovative crowdsourcing business model in the fashion industry, has been elected as one of the Top-20 articles in MIT Sloan Management Review.