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Customizing Customization

The move from standardization to customization may not be toward pure customization, but what the authors call "customized standardization." Lampel and Mintzberg recount the development of standardized product design, sales, and delivery, starting in 1916. Management thinkers at the time warned against the proliferation of products and against efforts to satisfy customers' needs. Now that new technologies have created more possibilities for custom-tailored products, industries may have gone too far. No one wants to choose among eighty-seven varieties of steering wheels, for instance. The result, according to the authors, is a continuum of strategies, depending on which functions lean to standardization and which to customization. A manufacturing firm, for example, may standardize production but customize delivery or financing. The authors see five categories along their continuum. In pure standardization, there is a dominant design, such as Ford's black Model T, targeted to a broad group of customers. In segmented standardization, products are standardized within a narrow range of features, e.g., cereal brands. Customized standardization implies customized assembly but standardized fabrication, such as a hamburger chain that allows customers to specify preferred condiments. In tailored customization, a product prototype is adapted to a customer's wishes, as a suit is tailored to a customer, but customization does not enter the design process. In pure customization, however, customization reaches all the way to the design, as custom jewelry is made to customer specifications. The authors go on to classify certain industries along the continuum to show how companies adopt the five strategies in practice. Mass industries, like gasoline, tend to lean toward the pure standardization end of the continuum, while agent industries, such as health care, may combine standardized financial transactions with customized medical procedures. Lampel and Mintzberg point out that a dominant trend is toward the middle - customized standardization. They suggest that as firms settle midway between standardization and customization, we will all lose choice as we settle for a package of standardized components.

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