From Craft Production to Mass Customisation? Customer-Focused Approaches to Housebuilding

James Barlow1

1School of the Built Environment, University of Westminster, 35 Marylebone Road, London, NW1 5LS, tel: 0171-911 5879, fax: 0171-911 5171, email: [email protected].


There is considerable dissatisfaction with the performance of UK housebuilders in providing products which customers want to buy. Notions of ‘customer focus’, which have spread through some industrial and retail sectors have largely passed the housebuilding industry by. In its current guise, the industry is unlikely to be able to tackle the demographic and social demands which will be placed on it in the early 21st century. Its challenge is to lower the initial and lifecycle cost of housing, but at the same time improve its quality and functionality. Notions of ‘agile production’ hold lessons for housebuilders. Essentially, the industry needs to adopt concepts of ‘mass customisation’, where highly customised products are delivered at costs comparable with mass production. The paper outlines the principal features of agile production and its relationship to notions of lean production, before reporting on the extent to which UK housebuilders are shifting their competitive strategies towards increased customer focus and improved supply chain management. The paper then explores some of the organisational, institutional and cultural barriers to the adoption of agile production in British housebuilding. Finally, we introduce a major project which aims to develop and demonstrate lean and agile approaches to private and social housing supply.


Housebuilding, lean production, agile production, innovation barriers.



Barlow, J. 1998. From Craft Production to Mass Customisation? Customer-Focused Approaches to Housebuilding, 6th Annual Conference of the International Group for Lean Construction , -.

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