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Modularization workshops - why almost never positive effects remain in day-to-day business

Modularization is sold as a panacea

Modular product development is the magic pill that solves all your problems? Advertising messages that trumpet the advantages of modularization may leave you with that impression. In reality, however, modular development, like any other development strategy, has both weaknesses and strengths, as well as risks and advantages.

The aim of a first workshop must therefore be to explore the topic and to recognize how modularization fits the goals you have for your development. Do you want to offer your customers more and more choice, reduce development times, reduce development costs and develop more efficiently? Or do you want to break down your product into modules that are developed and produced independently at different locations? 

These are only two possible objectives that you can pursue with modularization. Since you must align your approach and the methods used in modularization with the goal pursued, it is important to first identify which goals you want to achieve with a modular product architecture.

Those who happen to have time are sent to the workshop

When it comes to selecting the participants for the modularization workshop, the choice often falls on those who happen to have time and interest. The question of which participants are really suitable to make the most of the workshop is rarely discussed.

Similar to the modularization project, which is supported by a pilot group, a cross-section of the development organization needs to attend the workshop.  Since you only send two or three participants - unless the workshop is specifically organized for your company - a decision-maker and a doer must be present.  But who are these poeple?

Perhaps you have already heard the statement "modularization is a top-tier issue"? Decision-makers can recognize the implications of modular development for the organization as a whole. Furthermore, they have the necessary influence to set the course in the company towards modularization. Typically, this is the development manager or an experienced subdivision manager.

In addition to the decision-maker, the development engineer is also needed, who must get know the modularization methods and check the applicability to their own product. For the development engineer, a modularization workshop must show the advantages of modular products for the developer, the designer, the calculator. He or she is the one who provides support "from below" so that modularization does not become a prescribed management strategy that is rejected from the outset. Typically, the development engineer is an experienced, well-connected developer with a very good knowledge of the past of the company’s product portfolio.

Together, decision-makers and development engineers can bring the findings of a modularization workshop back into the company and start the transformation to modular development there.

The one correct method is preached

You have registered for a modularization workshop? It is very likely that your workshop will be offered by a research institute or a specialized consultancy - often a spin-off of such a research institute. Often these organizers bring along proprietary methods developed by themselves, often also with dedicated software support. To teach such a specific method, these research institutes or consultancies are the best you can find.

But one question is ignored: Is this method the right one for me? This fallacy is called the "law of the instrument" or "Maslow's hammer" according to the statement attributed to psychologist Abraham Maslow: "If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail".

However, there are a large number of tools for the development of a modular product architecture. There are methods with a focus on strategic corporate goals, methods with a focus on the functional interaction of assemblies or with a focus on technical interactions of components. You must choose from these methods according to the goals you want to achieve with them. What's more, you need to try these different tools to understand if they fit your goals.

Everything was so easy at the workshop

The first time you are taught about new methods and procedures, they are explained using highly simplified examples and exercises. You probably are familiar with them - be it the electric toothbrush or a toaster. This simplification is necessary to understand the principles and procedures of a new method.

The practical exercises are often designed to highlight the strengths of a method, which is legitimate as an introductory step. You want to understand the different advantages of the different methods and then make the right choice for your goals and your product.

However, you can you see whether a method works for you and what the results may look like after you have applied it to your own product. The first findings you make with regard to an improved modularity for your product are also a strong argument that you can take home with you from a workshop.

Conclusion: Tackle modularization workshops the right way and they will make sense

You have now seen the pitfalls that can make a modularization workshop fail and you may ask yourself: Does such a workshop still make sense?

The answer is yes. The best way to bring the right participants to the workshop and find out how modularization works with your own product is to plan the workshop as an in-house workshop designed for your company.

But even if you do not want to organize an in-house workshop, you often have the opportunity to bring your own cases to external workshops, which will be analyzed and processed there. By selecting the employees who attend, you create the basic prerequisite for successful participation in the workshop.

When selecting a workshop, make sure that modularization is also critically scrutinized and the limits of the method are addressed alongside the advantages.

By choosing an independent organizer who does not want to market their own method, you avoid sending your engineers to a "hammer sales" seminar.

A modularization workshop is therefore still the right choice as a first step towards the development of a modular system in your company.

In addition to modularization workshops, software support in modularization can also be helpful. When is the right time to choose such IT support and what to look out for? Find out here.

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