The IKEA effect is a term coined by Michael Norton, David Mochon and Dan Ariely, which describes the phenomenon where “labor alone can be sufficient to induce greater liking for the fruits of one’s labor: even constructing a standardized bureau, an arduous, solitary task, can lead people to overvalue their (often poorly constructed) creations.” The subjects place a higher value to products they built, as opposed to ready-made products, where they didn’t have any significant contribution in the manifestation of the final product itself.

The study reinforced the fact perhaps known and even used by avid marketers–that people will love, use and value a product much more if they have had an active contribution in building it. IKEA, the Swedish giant known for DIY furniture, engages consumers by allowing them the pleasure of assembling their product, following a simple set of instructions. In this way the consumer is also made a co-creator and derives additional value from the effort which has been put into creating something which they desired in the first place.

The Ikea effect & MES

But what in the world does the IKEA effect have to do with software, and more specifically with MES?

This is exactly what we will address. The process of MES selection and using the right application for your business is a topic we have visited on several occasions. In one of our blog posts, we discussed the ‘people’ factor as the very first step towards selecting and implementing the right MES solution. The participation of the right team members from the organization to implement the MES, right from the time a company starts exploring potential business use cases, until the time a MES is rolled out, is critical that the right set of people are involved in the whole process. This very fact, irrespective of the external help or the application chosen, might have the strongest impact on the MES success or failure.

Let us consider a scenario where we will include the IKEA effect and how it impacts the way MES is leveraged within an organization and extended value chain. Consider that a team of cross-functional personnel is chosen from the entire organization, which may have shop floor personnel and management personnel from multiple sites, and that this rich and diverse team with decades of experience among them selects two MES applications which have the basic functionality and desired attributes that may justify the chosen business cases. How do you think the MES project team will choose ‘the’ MES for the organization, given their parity in terms of basic functionality and ability to incorporate Industry 4.0 enabling technologies, AI/ML, VR, AR, Cloud, Blockchain and Additive Manufacturing?

We believe and advocate that the MES which the team would eventually select would likely be the one which allows users to have an ability to configure the way in which the application operates. Right from customizable dashboards, configurable GUIs, drag and drop features for viewing metrics and reports, to the very ability of choosing and configuring data which needs to be measured, controlled and communicated by the application in form of raw data or highly specific/detailed reports. The user will prefer an application which allows them the ability to complete the work not only as it is supposed to be done, but in the easiest and most convenient way possible. This means if the MES allows a user the independence of configuring and customizing the functionality and reports rather than expecting the user to change their way of working for the application, that particular MES would definitely be a preferred– dare we say a beloved solution.

If the IKEA effect teaches us anything from a MES perspective, it is that if the MES application allows users to participate in the way it functions, it has a much greater probability of finding widespread acceptance across the organization. However, if the application isn’t user-configurable and exists as a monolithic system, the chances of gaining user endorsement are slim to none. A modern MES application should not only be able to incorporate modern and available Industry 4.0 technology, but embody the very agility it promises the organization post-implementation, within its own architecture and functionality.

Modular MES applications which allow users to define and subsequently refine their requirements through constant engagement with the platform will always win. The IKEA effect describes how participants in the study valued even mediocre creations higher when they knew that it had their own labor involved. We certainly aren’t advocating mediocrity in any IT application or solution; however, we do believe that unless potential users of the application interact with it and understand how it will help improve their work life, they will always have an aversion towards the proposed solution, no matter how brilliant it is.


Modeling and integrating MES with other systems is challenging enough when your factory manufactures one type of product with similar flows. But what if your MES implementation includes a variety of manufacturing modes, product types, volumes, and varying degrees of automation?

A truly modern MES application should, by virtue of its design, have the IKEA effect built in and as a part of its standard outlay. This means the application should be modular, yet customizable. But it should have an element of simplicity in keeping with the IKEA effect, so none of the custom building should be complicated (requiring complex coding). Rather, the MES should allow user to leverage lower level application functionality and mold it in a way that helps them do their jobs better with more efficiency and precision. This is another lesson from the IKEA effect– that the sense of ownership and pleasure one derives from participating in the building activity quickly fades away if the project itself fails. MES vendors need to ensure that the amount of configurability offered still allows the core functionality to be retained and protected from any work done to extend or enrich the application. Too much work on user end will lead to frustration and too little might perhaps risk lack of ownership taken by personnel who need to use the software on a daily basis.

Low Code/No Code

Let’s look for a minute at the offerings of low/no code software. These are ‘platforms’ that allow users (called ‘citizen developers’) to build their own applications. Typically, it includes a mobile device factor since the applications are directed at the shop floor/frontline workers.

A modern MES incorporates the benefits of low/no code in order to provide some extensibility of the core application—for example, building a form for data capture at a line, or a check list for maintenance. These apps extend the functionality of the core MES, but do not impact its structure nor integrity of the MES itself; rather it enriches the user experience and makes it more reflective of the day to day activities that the workforce executes. This in turn provides an ‘IKEA effect’ for ownership.

Not all MES are equal

Not every application which claims to have the ability to provide user-driven customizations might actually be able to deliver on said claims. The team which is responsible for the MES selection in the organization should look for two things when judging the way in which a MES allows users to configure its GUI and functionality:

  1. Whether or not the changes made or to be made are quick and easy. Simply put, do changes in the way a report is pulled or graphic is displayed, or if a particular metric is measured or not, require any coding? If yes, then the solution isn’t providing the DIY feel it has promised to deliver.
  2. While changes made by users and experts are incorporated, does the minimum viable function of the application get affected in any way whatsoever? If the answer is, yes, then again the application isn’t delivering on the promise of user-led customizations.

An ideal MES application which is truly modern allows users to experience the full power of the application, through the ability to use the entire application as is applied to the business and process. It offers configurability to change only the key aspects which one considers vital for their job, with little to no effort, while still delivering on the overall business case as expected by the top management from a strategic perspective.

User involvement and gratification which results from what we know as the IKEA effect might be an extremely important feature of your future MES application. Keep this in mind while selecting your MES and remember that just as labor of love brings joy and self-expression, the ability to configure and customize your MES functionality and GUI will bring ownership and acceptance from both your own and extended value chain personnel.