The capabilities required to succeed at mass customization

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It is a mistake to think of mass customization as a simple evolution of mass manufacturing. While mass manufacturing involves producing one product, or a limited number of product variations, mass customization requires different underlying capabilities to allow each product that is produced to be different, exactly to customer requirements. This article explores the underlying capabilities required to successfully implement mass customization. 

Capabilities important for mass customization

Sales process - customizations options available

One of the first capabilities that the firm needs to succeed is mass customization is an order process that is able to accept user customizations. A key element is allowing customers to choose their desired variations in an automated manner, and to verify that the correct options are selected, potentially with visual feedback to the user. Key elements including the success of this capability include:

  1. Everything is automated – avoiding the need for manually involving the sales team, which dramatically increases the costs associated with individualized products.
  2. Visual feedback to reduce the likelihood that the customer selected the wrong dimensions. Since each product is made to order, there is likely limited re-sale opportunities if mistaken selections are made. 

Connections between the order being placed and manufacturing

The next capability required for successfully implementing mass customization is a seamless information system to transmit the product to be made to the manufacturing department, with little to no manual involvement in the process. The reduces the likelihood of mistakes, but also critically removes the expense involved in the customization. If ever order requires discussions, then the costs of mass-customization rapidly spiral. 

Automated manufacturing process

Automate manufacturing processes is the next key capability required for mass customization. Given that each product is unique, the costs involved in manually entering details, or reconfiguring a machine for a one-off product are likely to be prohibitively expensive. Manual involvement adds the likelihood of errors – and given each item is to some degree a one-off, the likelihood of manual mistakes is much greater than traditional mass manufacturing. 

Order tracking through the manufacturing process

A final capability required for mass customization is order tracking – helping to ensure that each product can be reliably and confidently assigned to a particular order that has been placed. Mass customization quickly runs into problems if it is not possible to assign back the products that have been made to individual customer orders – potentially resulting in the wrong orders being sent to customers. 

Execution: The need for clear communication between each of the stages

Underlying each of the capabilities required for successfully implementing mass customization is clear lines of communications (potentially fully automated), with reliable routines to allow individual goods to be manufactured with minimal likelihood of mistakes, and minimal manual involvement. The more manual steps, decision stages, or communications required, the greater the likelihood for costs to spiral and mistakes to creep into the production process.