To compete in globalized business environments, manufacturing firms, especially small and medium enterprises (SMEs), need to be collaborative with respect to their total product life cycle. In this research, a focus on complex products is proposed and a new approach to structure collaboration in design and operational activities is suggested. A complete framework and guidelines for collaborative product design, development and manufacturing is proposed with respect to two product development scenarios: Engineer-to-Order (ETO) and Customize-to-Order (CTO). The ETO scenario, which is project-based, and the CTO scenario, which is platform-based, are employed to respond to individualized and market driven production strategies respectively. The CTO scenario is developed using the platform-based product family concept, following a new approach that uses a product configurator and white boxes to assure sustainable customization. The research also explains how the transition from ETO to CTO can be implemented, aiming at improving the customization level and profitability of SMEs. The overall results, lessons learned and future research directions conclude the paper.