Recently, I had the opportunity to attend the ASQ Automotive Division’s annual conference. There were excellent speakers throughout the day, but one who garnered a lot of attention was Ford Motor Co.’s Bennie Fowler, group vice president, global quality and new model launch. He gave an excellent presentation on the One Ford Program. One Ford is the mission set forth by Ford-One Team, One Plan, One Goal-to deliver profitable growth for all. I get concerned with such fancy initiatives that come with its owner and go with its owner unless the organization really owns it. The question remains, “Have we changed the fundamentals to sustain profitable growth?”

Standardization is a must for sustainable improvement. Without standardization one cannot trust process changes or count on the desired outcomes. I have avoided improving a process without an initial documented process standards because I would have no idea what needed to change and what actually happened during the process. Then the question arises, “Is any standardization good for improvement?” This reminds us the role of ISO 9000 quality management system standards in our current state of manufacturing.

The ISO 9000 standards were initiated with the intent of using best-in-class practices. Given the diversity of the professionals on the committee, the standards became a least common denominator, resulting in a minimum set of requirements. Can a company excel by using a minimal set of standards, the shortest possible procedure or a minimal number of standards with the objective of passing the third-party audit?

To my knowledge the original intent was to develop good practices, document them and then seek certification. Of course, the practice became seek certification then figure out how to use the documents to the extent that some companies have two sets of documents-one for auditors and one for internal use. The internal documents do not enhance standardization and the external ones may not be applicable internally.

My intent is to highlight the need for good standards. What should a good standard or procedure include that will allow its users to aim for and achieve excellence?

Typically procedures include activities people perform at a process or workstation. However, when we do the root cause analysis, mostly it is not the activity but the input that is found to be the cause for poor quality problems-garbage in, garbage out. Therefore, it makes sense to focus on carefully identifying what is needed in a process for achieving excellence. Thus, the procedure should include process inputs along with the activities.

While identifying process inputs one would ask, “Inputs for what?” This leads to another critical aspect of the process that is defining excellence at every process. Excellence does not mean all acceptable outputs, nor does it mean zero defects. Excellence means striving for perfection, and the perfection at a process means being on “target.” The challenge is capturing and articulating which targets to achieve. Without targets fuzzy performance is achieved, which is about 30% more expensive than achieving excellence. Fuzzy excellence gives a false perception of quality as we spend a ton of resources unnecessarily in verification activities. Poorly defined targets lead to excessive and expensive verification activities that deliver marginal performance.

Therefore, one must include two critical aspects of the process in well-defined process standards:

  • Clearly defined performance targets.

  • A comprehensive list of process inputs to achieve the target performance.

    The targets reduce the conventional appraisal cost, and well-defined inputs will reduce the failure cost. I did not see emphasis on targets during Ford’s presentation. That’s why I am skeptical of a sustained turnaround. One Ford does not appear to be a crisp and clear target; without targets, marginal performance will still be experienced by the customer. Standards without well defined inputs would mean marginally built cars, not the best cars. Auto industry leaders must be bold to establish best in the world targets that will at least make the best cars a possibility.