Modular by Design — How it works

The modular by design approach is based on the simple concept of small modular components. In order to fully understand it, however, one must examine the actual components of this approach: standards, focus, flexibility, speed, communication, and stealth.

I will now go into each of these concepts, providing examples for each of them but it is necessary to give a quick overview of the concepts before looking into how they apply to the approach and why you should consider adopting them.


When I first unveiled the modular by design concept, I didn’t think of this critical component. The idea was brought forth to me in one of the many discussions that ensued but it does make sense. A modular by design model should really be based on a common standard. The reason for this is that the basic precept of an aggregated model is lock-in through proprietary standards. The antidote to that is adoption of open standards.


Because modular units are small, they are generally much more focused than larger aggregated ones. However, because they are small, they must conserve energy and focus on the critical mission they want to accomplish. This forces them to get rid of any other distraction and focus on their core competency. Doing so is the only way they can truly survive.


Because they are relatively small, modular units are generally more independent. However, that independence only goes as far as the basic issue they are focused on. Much like any other organic structure, modular units have inter-dependency on other members of a complex system to fully accomplish their task.


It’s been said that “there are no monuments to great committees.” Large aggregated models generally have less flexibility in the decision-making process because they have to get the buy from all the parts they are aggregated to. Because modular units are generally focus on solving a single problem and work as part of a wider network but are given independence within the network, they tend to be much more flexible in terms of adapting to changing market conditions.


The success of modular units can often be attributed to their velocity. In a modular world, only the strongest unit survives. As a result, a modular unit is always running at full-bore, trying to take advantage of the limited lead it has over competing concepts, models, or product. This can be considered as the live fast or die model.


Because they are forced into high velocity, and because they are generally focused on a single issue, modular unit need to be in constant communication with other modular units in order to create and destroy aggregated models. For example, a modular by design company could be relying on a number of other companies to help it bring its product to market, and could even be working with its competitors in order to push forward a new idea, standard, or product line. At the same time, a modular unit needs to stay on top of what the rest of the world is doing in order to stay ahead.


While it does communicate heavily, a modular by design unit is generally hidden from the mainstream. This is largely because its concept is generally not mainstream during the initial phase, and then keeps moving and morphing over time. As a result, a modular unit is generally relatively hard to pin down. Amorphous by nature, the modular by design approach means that a module has already moved on by the time someone has enough information to pin it down.

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