In a new book, Ben Moore and Clint Lewis are looking on the success factors of mass customization and customer-centric manufacturing strategies (The Consumer’s Workshop: The Future of American Manufacturing). Their main finding: People matter most for successful mass customization. This may sound like a simple truth, but confirms an understanding I got from working with many companies in the area as well. MC is enabled by technologies, but put in place by dedicated people.
Ben is the President of Agent Technologies, Inc., and Clint the President of Lewis Group Consultants (LGC), two operations and manufacturing consultancies in the United States (a more detailed bio can be found here).
Ben offered to summarize his key findings in a small guest article to my blog, which you find in the previous posting. In an additional interview, I asked him what motivated their research on mass customization and how they did derive their findings.
What did motivate your research on mass customization?
Ben Moore: I've always had an interest in mass customization even before my participating in a Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) project entitled Autonomous Agents at Rock Island Arsenal (AARIA) back in 1995; in this project we built a simulation to demonstrate a factory scheduler capable of mass customization based on autonomous agents that actively represent each step of manufacturing a part. Since this project and the growth of personalization tools, I've researched mass customization tools and techniques in an attempt to find the best system for consumers to create unique products and for manufacturers to efficiently manufacture these products.
What is an example of a company "that got it", i.e. that has a sustainable mass customization strategy that is both scalable and build-to-last -- and that understood the HUMAN FACTOR.
BM: I've found the HUMAN FACTOR to be the least understood and valued of companies. John Deere gets mass customization tools and techniques, but their people systems don't compare to the people systems in companies like Procter & Gamble (P&G) and General Electric (GE). P&G and GE don't focus on mass customization, but focus on customization through standardization and systemization that allows the creation of new products and machines; P&G and GE really get it with their people systems.
What would be your main advice for a manager that wants to start a mass customization initiative?
BM: I recommend really looking at the reasons and financials for a mass customization initiative versus some level of customization initiative. In some manufacturing companies, like capital equipment manufacturers, each product/machine is different so it makes sense to create processes and tools to efficiently manage the customer requirements and deliver these unique products/machines profitably. In many other companies, I've found that creating an agile manufacturing system that can be reconfigured / customized to make a wide variety of products to be more profitable.
What is, in general and beyond your industry, the greatest mass customization offering ever - either one that already exists or that you would like to get in the future?
BM: I believe the greatest mass customization offering ever will be health related. People are becoming more health conscious around the globe. Companies that find a way to capitalize on providing a health regiment specifically designed for the individual based on age, weight, diet, family history, lifestyle and behaviors that fits with the delivery system that they are looking for and at a price they find affordable, will win in this space.