Complexity and variety in mass customization systems: Analysis and recommendations
Purpose - To identify and examine the origins of complexity in a mass customization system and to propose an effective application sequence of variety management strategies in order to cope with this complexity. Design/methodology/approach - Through the application of Suh's complexity theory an understanding of the causes of complexity in the specific context of a mass customization environment is developed. This facilitates the identification of the strategies that are adequate to tackle the problems induced by complexity. Findings - The mass customization system is a coupled system that cannot be mastered simply. It is definitely impossible to transform it to an uncoupled system with a low complexity level. However, the effective and targeted implementation of variety management strategies at the product and process levels enables the management of this complexity by making the system more decoupled. Practical implications - Complexity can be decreased if managers ensure less dependency between the satisfaction of customer requirements and position of the decoupling point. It is also advantageous to reduce the coupling level between fast delivery requirement in mass customization and the decoupling point placement. Furthermore, an effective variety management calls for the implementation of the identified strategies in an ascending order of complexity reduction potential. Originality/value - The article relates the complexity theory of Suh to mass customization system, provides a framework for the classification of variety management strategies and derives managerial recommendations so as to reduce the complexity in a mass customization environment.