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Focus on Quality, not Quota

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Focus on Quality, not Quota
Why your shop needs a “stop the line” process.

In the aftermath of World War II, many of the major factories in Europe and Japan were destroyed. It would take years, if not decades, to rebuild those factories. In contrast, factories in the U.S. were untouched and running at full capacity. In fact, the U.S. produced the goods the world wantedfrom cars to electronics to home appliancesand the world wanted those products in great quantity. But there was a problem brewing.

During WWII, the American factories were in perfect alignment and produced all the supplies, machinery, and everything else our military needed to win the war. It was a national team effort, where every factory worker wanted to get it right.

But, with the war over, and with that mission gone, these same factories now focused on quota, rather than quality. This was especially evident in the auto industry. The Big Three (GM, Ford and Chrysler) pumped out cars that were sold all over the world, with an emphasis on quota and profit. This led to a false sense of economic security. The Big Three also ignored what was happening in a small Asian country. This led to an arrogance, which helped jumpstart one of fastest economic rebuilding in history. That country was Japan.

Japan was rebuilding, and in the 1950s, they listened to an American engineer named Dr. William Edwards Deming. Deming taught them that quality in the production process, not production quota, would be the driving force to make Japan an economic superpower. Deming also taught the Japanese that it was the responsibility of management to ensure the quality of its products. By the mid-1980s, the Japanese car companies were surpassing the Americans in quality and, eventually, in sales. But did the Japanese really build a better car, or was it that the quality of their process found the defects before they reached the consumer?

Toyota took process quality to another level an empowered every worker with the authority to literally “stop the line” if anyone noticed a flaw in quality. If a fender did not fit right, or if a suspension component did not work properly, anyone on the line would be able to stop the process. A team would then fix the problem, and the line would continue. Finding the defects before it got out to consumer was one of the key reasons why the Japanese, especially Toyota, became known for product quality.

The American car companies at that time did the opposite. Their focus was on quota. Assembly lines would produce the cars, then inspect them at the end of the assembly line. Defects would be repaired before being shipped to dealerships. Because all the defects could not be identified, this resulted in too many defects ending up in the hands of car owners. With the stigma of poor quality, the American car companies consequently suffered.

A lot can be learned from Toyota and Dr. Deming. The strategy of improving quality in the repair process can improve overall repair quality, reduce comebacks and improve your bottom line. Many shops already employ a quality control process after a repair is complete. But just like the American car companies, finding quality problems after a repair or service is complete is not as effective as identifying quality issues during the entire process. Sure, you’ll find the grease smudge on the hood, or the missing oil change sticker. But, what cannot be identified are the defects that occur throughout the repair process. With an emphasis on production, techs may overlook a worn oil drain plug, or the timing belt tensioner that should be replaced. Good enough is never good enough.

What’s needed is to implement your own “stop the line” process, where everyone, especially the technicians, have the power to stop the repair process if something does not match your quality standards. Create a culture where the quality of the process helps ensure the overall quality of the end product. With more of an emphasis on quality and less on production, you increase the likelihood that a worn drain plug or that questionable timing belt tensioner will not get overlooked. Doing the job right becomes a culture integrated into the entire workflow process.

I know what you are thinking: Doesn’t this strategy slow productivity? If we look back when Toyota first implemented their stop the line process, it did initially slow up production. But in time, production actually increased, morale improved, and overall defects were greatly reduced. You can expect the same results in your business.

The last question is this: Will this process result in your shop performing better repairs? Or is it that this process will find the defects before it reaches your customer? Either way, it’s a big win for your shop.

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