Contrasting platform thinking and product modularization: A survey of Swedish product development practices
Paper in proceedings, 2015
Product modularization and platform thinking are both practices that seek to alleviate the negative impact of product customization and variety on internal operations by relying on economies of substitution. Through the use of a standardized pool of components and interfaces, these practices aim to create a broad spectrum of product choices. At first sight, product modularization and platform thinking are very similar. The difference between these practices can, however, be found in the manner in which they employ standardization. Where product modularization focuses on creating standardized building blocks that can be mixed and matched to create product variants, product platforms have an even stronger emphasis on standardization, using the same pool of core platform components and interfaces over the life of the platform and relying on distinctive variable components to create product variants.
There is a general lack of research addressing the contingency factors that dictate the appropriateness of the use of product modularization and platform thinking in different contexts. To our knowledge, no large-scale empirical research has been reported in which the two concepts, contextual influences and organizational effects are considered together. Based on data from 138 Swedish firms, the purpose of this paper is twofold. First, to examine in which environmental and organizational contexts the individual or combined use of the two design approaches is appropriate and secondly, to investigate which practices are complementary to product modularization and/or platform thinking.