Back to Volume 3 | Winter 2018

Rethinking the Product-Process Matrix for Projects

Executive Summary

The Product-Process Matrix, first proposed by Hayes and Wheelwright, is a fundamental concept in Operations Science. Products made in production systems vary in complexity, ranging from highly customized low volume products to commodity, standard high-volume products. The Product-Process Matrix describes how certain types of production processes are more naturally matched for some product-volume mixes compared with other types of processes. Hayes and Wheelwright used this idea to describe the variation with product volume of strategic options for companies, ranging from low volume, highly customized products to high volume commoditized products.

Schmenner extended the Product-Process Matrix concept by explicitly positioning projects as one type of product at one extreme of the matrix – a unique one-of-a-kind custom product. We argue here that a more fruitful direction is to view a project as an aggregation of different production systems, as pointed out in an article in a previous volume of this Journal. The processes for each type of production must be carefully matched to the type of production taking place, in order to optimize overall project execution performance. An interesting direction to explore is to understand whether more precise relationships can be formulated between the variability of product types being made and how the processes should be chosen to manage that variability.

Keywords: Product-Process Matrix; Operations Science; Process Lifecycle; Product Lifecycle; Project Production System

Mark Spearman, Technical Director, Project Production Institute,
H. James Choo, Ph.D., Chief Technical Officer, Strategic Project Solutions,

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