June 2, 2020

Mass Customisation and the Evolution of Business Process

Mass production is a paradigm. A paradigm that blocks us from processing new information in contradiction to itself, but nonetheless will eventually outgrow itself. The whole system will, as paradigms do, come crashing down in the end.

The world is changing. With the rise of digital technologies, the internet, and social media, consumers have more choice than ever before. The more choice they get, the more they want. And they want it now. It’s time for a paradigm shift - out with the old; in with the new.

The Limits of Mass Production

There are limits to the mass production model, which are already chipping away and catalysing the paradigm’s downfall. These are:

  • The changing needs and desires of consumers
  • The changing demographics of consumers
  • Economic disruption (cycles, shocks, uncertainties caused by political or economic changes)
  • Saturation levels of products within their marketplace
  • Technological shocks which threaten to overthrow the dominant mode of the marketplace
  • Decreases in the level of input stability that can be effectively maintained

These factors were identified way back in 1993, when Joseph Pine published Mass Customisation: The New Frontier in Business Competition. As you will have noticed, we are in the midst of a perfect storm for the mass customisation paradigm shift.

Go With The Flow

A change of mindset is needed in order to jump-start the necessary organisational transformation to the mass customisation model.

We must shift our attention in flow, from products to markets to niches to individual customers.

Flow is the operative word here, as a move to the more suitable flow manufacturing model will be key to this organisational transformation. This model is effective at personalising the flow of products, which has the welcome benefit of optimising cycle time and reducing waste.

In many companies, processes are either ad-hoc or well-defined. In both, the process is organised for the efficiency of that process. This, however, leads to a blindness to lingering inefficiencies: those long cycle times, large batches of excess inventory, wastage, profit leakage. The organisational structure, in this process, becomes so compartmentalised that people from one area rarely speak to those in other areas, even to the point of failing to meet the final customer demands.

A redesigned process in favour of the flow manufacturing model breaks down these organisational barriers, allowing the company to examine its strengths and weaknesses on the production line. This method is much more customer-focused, horizontal, and logical.

It is necessary to identify aspects of the current production process in order to crystallize, in the minds of the employees, what needs to be done to truly overcome inefficiencies in production. This revolutionary change will have the effect of providing dynamic stability, as the entire staff steps back to see what processes need to be performed, and how they should be redesigned.

Expeditionary Marketing

Following an overhaul to a flow production model, a company can begin rapidly developing a large number of products with a range of variations. This will allow the company to test the market, putting forth variations and discovering which ones work for customers.

From the successful outcomes, another series of variations can be generated, like a process of natural selection. A rapid proliferation of variety emerges, allowing the company to quickly move ahead of the competition and have stronger, more accurate and targeted insight into what satisfied consumer demand.

Data gathering drives more targeted product offerings, but also more individualised marketing campaigns, which are at the heart of marketing practice in modern times. The rapid development of product offerings, combined with flexible production and speeded-up delivery times will all work together to leave competition far behind, wondering what the hell happened.

The User-Generated Content Goldmine

Customers themselves are an untapped goldmine of innovative ideas. Taking time with customers to find out precisely what they want will pay dividends in the product development process. With the 3D rendering technology available to businesses now in order to mass customise products, comes an opportunity for a marketing and product development dream.

As well as offering customers the opportunity to use 3D rendering to customise products to their specifications, what if a brand could offer a recreational design platform? Like a kind of social network, visitors to the site could produce images of different interior decor designs, outfits, footwear, or other products sold by the company.

Piecing together options available from current collections, perhaps with elements from past collections and - crucially - some suggested designs your brand is thinking of offering, visitors could design their own digital versions in a kind of online portfolio. This would be an outstanding idea for gathering information about customer desires to inform new collections.

Such a platform creates an innovative user-generated content aspect, improves user experience on site, and creates untold opportunities for marketing and brand promotion. It also allows individuals to build on their ideas of individual identity, or as creative trendsetters. Imagine discounts for most-liked looks, social media sharing opportunities, and that all-important, juicy data. Brand marketers will be salivating.

Adaptation and Empowerment

Beyond the hardware element to overhauling a mass production process in favour of flow and mass customisation, there is a human element at stake.

Mass production has been with us for generations. Production line workers are accustomed to simply doing a task. Few are the opportunities to think about those tasks, to innovate, to think for themselves about what would work better.

Many have long abandoned the idea that their input means anything at all… and that is no way to work, for anybody. Though a lot of employees will be out of practice or hold back at giving their opinion, over time, the new flow manufacturing technique will allow expansion of creativity across the employee base.

Despite being out of practice or unaccustomed to an empowered working environment, if asked for their true views, the chances are that the average employee has a wealth of ideas. They know, from completing the same tasks every day, how the process could be improved - they’ve simply never been asked.

Working beyond the limitations that mass production has put in place for employees will take time. It will be a process of trial and error, there will be failures, a lot of patience will be necessary. Over time, however, what will emerge (with active involvement) is an empowered set of cross-functional teams, who have the capacity and opportunity to collaborate with a diverse range of skills, experience and knowledge.

It is these separate minds coming together and expressing these skills, experiences and knowledge, that have untold potential for accomplishing change internally that reverberates with the rapid changes occurring in the external world. Employees are consumers too, so whilst focusing on the end-user is key, so are the opinions of a company’s staff.

Empowered teams are more motivated, self-driven and managed, and fulfilled at work. They are more confident in their ability to provide value for customers and the company alike. The employee is valued, and is thus able to grow their skills and abilities.

The Times They Are A-Changin’

What we are talking about here is disruption. Mass customisation has the potential to completely revolutionise business process. Evolving gradually, with time, effort, and perseverance, is what companies need to begin doing immediately if they are to survive the coming storms of change.

Few companies that do not allow themselves to evolve in the wake of the significant market turbulence we are experiencing will thrive. It is a case of survival of the fittest.