Modularity, flexibility, and knowledge management in product and organization design

Ron Sanchez, Joseph T. Mahoney

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This paper investigates interrelationships of product design, organization design, processes for learning and managing knowledge, and competitive strategy. This paper uses the principles of nearly decomposable systems to investigate the ability of standardized interfaces between components in a product design to embed coordination of product development processes. Embedded coordination creates 'hierarchical coordination' without the need to continually exercise authority - enabling effective coordination of processes without the tight coupling of organizational structures. We develop concepts of modularity in product and organization designs based on standardized component and organization interfaces. Modular product architectures create information structures that provide the 'glue' that holds together the loosely coupled parts of a modular organization design. By facilitating loose coupling, modularity can also reduce the cost and difficulty of adaptive coordination, thereby increasing the strategic flexibility of firms to respond to environmental change. Modularity in product and organization designs therefore enables a new strategic approach to the management of knowledge based on an intentional, carefully managed loose coupling of a firm's learning processes at architectural and component levels of product creation processes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)63-76
Number of pages14
JournalStrategic Management Journal
Issue numberSUPPL. WINTER
StatePublished - Dec 1996


  • Coordination
  • Knowledge management
  • Modularity
  • Strategic flexibility

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Business and International Management
  • Strategy and Management

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