Most companies can benefit from mass customization, yet few do. The key is to think of it as a process for aligning a business with its customers’ needs.
Executives tend to think of mass customization as a fascinating but impractical idea, implemented
in only a small number of extreme cases, such as Dell Inc. in the PC market. But over the past decade,
the authors have studied mass customization at different organizations, including a survey of more
than 200 manufacturing plants in eight countries. From that investigation, they found that mass customization is applicable to most businesses, provided that it is appropriately understood and deployed. The key is to view it fundamentally as a process for aligning an organization with its customers’
needs through the development of a set of three organizational capabilities.
Those three fundamental capabilities are: (1) the ability to identify the product attributes along
which customer needs diverge, (2) the ability to reuse or recombine existing organizational and value chain resources, and (3) the ability to help customers identify or build solutions to their own needs.
Admittedly, the development of these capabilities requires organizational changes that are often difficult
because of powerful inertial forces in a company, but many obstacles can be overcome by using a
variety of tools and approaches, and even small improvements can reap substantial benefits. The trick
is to remember that there is no one best way to mass customize: Managers need to tailor their
approach in ways that make the most sense for their specific business.