Finding Balance in Mass Customization
Mass customization is defined as "producing goods and
services to meet individual customer’s needs with near mass production
Henry Ford popularized mass production in the early 1900’s
in part by adhering to his mantra of “you can have any color Model T you
want…as long as it’s black”. On the
other end of the spectrum is Burger King 1970’s invitation to “have it your
way”, which enticed customers to design their own personal hamburger creations.
Nowadays, this is a topic that we at b2b2dot0 are constantly
wrestling with. How do you strike the balance between building (and more
importantly, supporting) “bespoke” products for individual customers, versus
building a product architected for the “market” but tailor-able for every
company’s unique situation?
Balance is the key word here.
Because software is so pliable, it’s tempting to architect
the infinitely configurable application which would make our product available
to the widest audience possible. But
there are many trade offs.
“Designing” versus “delivering” value – First of all,
no one is paying us to design and build our product. They will, however, pay us to use our
service. That means that the sooner our
product comes to market, the sooner everyone will be deriving real business value.
In essence, we have to anticipate the important things that
could be unique across our future customer base, but only focus our energies on
handling the real challenges uncovered by the customers we’re currently working
Agility means architecting our product to enable us to
intelligently extend it in later releases.
Build to demand not to forecast – HAHT made a
strategic blunder in 2001. We decided to
diversify and expand our addressable market opportunity by extending our
application to integrate with JD Edwards. Early focus groups foreshadowed a difficult journey into this new market
segment. Nevertheless we proceeded. We eventually did win one client, but we
consumed an inordinate amount of resources in the process.
We planned for the masses but customized for a single
client. Not exactly the “mass
customization” concept we were hoping for.
The moral of this story was build to a real demand as
opposed to a hallucinated (but exciting) forecast. Or in lean terms…create “pull”.
Too many choices, so little time – Over the past
seven years, I have made a lot of money consulting to software companies who
wanted to compress their implementation cycles. Without giving away too many of my trade secrets, I always played two
cards in each of those engagements:
1. Rely less on documentation and more on demonstrations
2. Give clients less choices, not more
It wasn’t hard to cut implementation times by 50% just by
introducing those two concepts.
While our application might be architected to handle the
customization requirements of the masses, it’s in no one’s best interest to
sift through all of those choices during the implementation process.
We’ll have to keep that in mind.