Getting To Know The Product-Process Matrix

When deadlines approach and it seems like there’s no way you’re going to pull through, work flow can potentially become unorganized and chaotic without the proper guidance. Part of the Lean and continuous improvement process is being able to effectively organize processes in the most efficient manner. Specific tools and procedures have been developed through the years to help organizations organize their work flow and become more efficient. One in particular that I will discuss in this post is the Product-Process Matrix.

Product-Process Matrix Background

The matrix was introduced by Robert H. Hayes and Steven C. Wheelwright in the Harvard Business Review in 1979, entitled “Link Manufacturing Process and Product Life Cycles” and “The Dynamics of Process-Product Life Cycles.” In the articles the two authors examine market manufacturing process issues and use the matrix to create strategic options for the company.

The matrix is made up of two dimensions that help to illustrate the linkage between the type of product produced and the production process. The first being product structure/product life cycle and the second is process structure/process life  cycle. Together, the two dimensions can help you and your organization identify they type of production approach necessary for a particular product. [/sws_grey_box]

The Matrix

The columns of the matrix consist the types of products that are organized into the following categories:

  • Low volume , low standardization one-of-a-kind products
  • Multiple products, low volume
  • Few major products, higher volume
  • High volume, high standardization, commodity products

The rows of the matrix contain the process choices as shown in the example matrix to the right. Hayes and Wheelwright found that the majority of organizations lie along the diagonal of the matrix, where product type and process choice are logically aligned with one another. These process types are as follows:

Job Shop

If you are an organization that falls into the job shop process, it is more than likely that you produce a variety of goods in relatively low production volumes. This allows a lot of flexibility in both your workers and your equipment because you are producing a low volume. However, the goods produced are generally unique products that require customization, direct interaction with customers, and requires a high level of skill to produce.

Although, there is flexibility and creativity in the job shop process, there is little to no repetition in the process. This can lead to inefficiency and slow production times without the proper materials and skills necessary to produce the good.


A batch process is one that is capable of producing more goods than a job shop, but the volume per good is still not enough to justify dedicated equipment. This allows for a little more efficiency because you are grouping certain parts together in one process as needed. However, it is still at a low volume.

The repetition is good for creating a smoother flow in the work process, but it is still not a connected process.


An assembly line process consists of highly similar goods produced in a repetitive manner. Workstations are set up so that products can pass through them in a sequential order that allows the goods to be produced in the most efficient manner. This standardization provides an excellent opportunity to manage and oversee the process, but offers little to no flexibility or variety in the process or the product. However, does allow for the company to produce its goods in a high volume quickly.

Continuous Flow

Continuous flow processes require specialized equipment in order to work continuously. This can only be possible when your range of products is extremely limited and you’re required to produce them in an extremely high volume. The upside to this process is it is the most efficient and standardizes the process the most, making it the easiest to maintain standards. The downside, is that it offers no flexibility or ability to customize the products. It also can be very expensive to set up and fix machinery when they break, possibly causing long downtimes and gaps in your production.

Where Do You Fit In?

The first two processes fit into the upper left quadrant of the matrix. They both put a major emphasis on product variety and flexible resources (workers and equipment). While the last two processes offer little variety and use less flexible resources. They tend to align themselves in the lower right portion of the matrix.

When used, the product-process matrix can provide at least an understanding of the strategic options available, especially when it comes to production efforts. If you fall into a particular part of the quadrant, but are using a process that doesn’t align with your placing in the matrix, then it might be time to rethink your process.

This is not the perfect solution for every organization out there trying to find their niche, but it does provide a quick and easy guide to see where you line up. Every product and every organization is different, thus no one way is the right way. However, finding the most efficient and value adding method  to your process, should alway be the end all goal.

Additional Resources