Toward a Contingent Model of Mirroring Between Product and Organization

Toward a Contingent Model of Mirroring Between Product and Organization: A Knowledge Management Perspective

Toward a Contingent Model of Mirroring Between Product and Organization: A Knowledge Management Perspective

Ezekiel Leo

Originally published: October 28, 2019 (PDMA JPIM • Vol. 37, Issue 1 • January 2020)
Read time: 1 hour, 10 minutes

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Much of the contemporary modularity literature subscribes to the idea that increased product modularity is associated with advantageous increase in organizational modularity. Known as the “mirroring hypothesis,” this proposed relationship states that the structure of a product development organization and the architecture of the product being developed would “mirror” each other. This correspondence suggests that product modularity can be a substitute for overt organizational coordination mechanisms, thereby increasing the efficiency of product development. However, empirical research to date provides inconsistent support for the hypothesis and the extant literature has yet to converge on a systematic explanation for the inconsistent findings. Moreover, important conceptual inconsistencies still remain in the extant literature, which impede cumulative knowledge development. As the first step toward reconciliation, this conceptual paper puts forth a contingent model of mirroring between product and organization, based on the systematic examination of the requisite architectural knowledge that enables product and organizational modularity. The resulting contingent model clearly articulates the knowledge prerequisite of mirroring and its underpinning causal mechanism. Based on the contingent model, a set of propositions are derived to explain and predict when the mirroring relationship will hold and when it will not. This paper thus contributes to the literature by helping to resolve persistent conceptual inconsistencies and reconcile conflicting empirical findings. In addition, explicating the knowledge prerequisite for mirroring places boundary conditions on product modularity as an effective substitute for overt exercise of managerial coordination, which helps us gain a deeper understanding of modularity as a design strategy and how complex innovations can be organized, and provides a basis for more nuanced prescriptions for practitioners to assess the relationships between their product and organization design.

Practitioner Points

  • Adopting standardized modular interface is a necessary but insufficient condition to achieve all the expected organizational benefits of modular product design.
  • Product development organizations still need to possess or have access to adequate architectural knowledge of component interactions to realize the expected organizational benefits of product modularity.
  • Despite adopting a modular product design, managers should still maintain a more integrated organization structure if they observe significant innovations in the industry, or if they intend to target customers with higher performance or reliability demands.

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