What Exactly is Product Modularity? The Answer Depends on Who You Ask

38 Pages Posted: 17 Dec 2006  

Sebastian K. Fixson

Babson College - Technology, Operations, and Information Management Division

Date Written: November 2006

Abstract

'Product modularity' has recently experienced a significant increase in interest in the academic literature. While the concept of product modularity is used across a wide range of academic research areas, substantial variations exist in the ways in which the concept is described and interpreted. In this paper, I develop a framework to represent the similarities and differences that appear across these variations of the concept of product modularity. Next, through an extensive literature search I construct a set of 85 references representing the use of product modularity in the engineering and management literature over the past 30 years (1975-2006). With help of the framework I then analyze the use and interpretation of product modularity in every reference in the set. The analysis demonstrates that the product modularity concepts taken together really encompass a bundle of product characteristics rather than a single condition, and individual research areas exhibit certain preferences in which they define and operationalize product modularity. I conclude with some recommendations for future research. Overall, this paper strives to provide a vocabulary to improve cross-disciplinary understanding of product modularity.

Keywords: Product Modularity, Concept Ambiguity, Product Architecture, Interfaces, Multidisciplinary research, Review

Suggested Citation

Fixson, Sebastian K., What Exactly is Product Modularity? The Answer Depends on Who You Ask (November 2006). MIT Sloan Research Paper No. 4631-06. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=952045 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.952045

Sebastian K. Fixson (Contact Author)

Babson College - Technology, Operations, and Information Management Division ( email )

231 Forest St.
Babson Park, MA 02457
United States

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