Quality by the Numbers at Ford

Gary S. Vasilash

Ford has its share of quality problems. But one thing is certain: When it comes to improving quality, Louise Goeser will figure it out.

1. When the Ford Revitalization Plan was rolled out by Bill Ford, Jr., on January 11, 2002, one of the “key elements” for North American revitalization—one of just four items—was:

“Continue quality improvements.”

As the plan proceeds, the need to improve quality is still in the top four, notes Louise Goeser, vice president, Quality, Ford Motor Co. Realize that the plan was laid out by Bill Ford, Jr. So if quality is something that requires the support of top leadership, then she’s certainly got the highest level of that. “You can’t see strides in quality unless the leadership is aligned behind it,” she notes.

Goeser shows a list of “a vital few priorities” set by James J. Padilla, Ford president for North America. The top two read:

“Improve quality.”

That’s right. Both #1 and #2 are the same. You can’t get a clearer mandate than that. (Padilla, incidentally, joined Ford in 1966. . .as a quality control engineer. Think he’s not interested in quality?)

2. Louise Goeser joined Ford in March 1999. Prior to that, she was with Whirlpool Corp. as vp of Quality, where she initiated a Six Sigma program. And for the 20 years before that, she was with Westinghouse Electric Corp., where she was the first Westinghouse Quality and Productivity Fellow. (In 1988, the Commercial Nuclear Fuel Div. of Westinghouse received the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award.) Think she doesn’t know a little more than most about quality from both the standpoints of consumers and engineering?

That experience leads to this: “ Automotive is fascinating. In my past experience, I was involved in power plant design. That’s a pretty complex product, but you’re not producing them one every 40 seconds on an assembly line.” She notes the complexity of the vehicle and correlates it with the speed of production to draw a conclusion about automotive manufacturing in relation to quality: “The choreography it takes to pull it off so everyone knows what they need to deliver, when, and to what standards, really says you need to standardize the way you do business so everyone knows their role at the appropriate time with the appropriate performance standards to make that work. Much easier said than done.”

And the emphasis that she puts on standardization and on process becomes understandable. As in: “We have standardized within manufacturing on a quality operating system. We could go to any plant in the system and see the same processes followed in the same way and it’s making a difference.”

She admits: “I tend to be very data driven.”

3. Data is only part of what they’re doing at Ford in their efforts to improve quality. She talks about “will and skill.”

The “will” is the part where there is management support. Where there is an organization that puts quality first and foremost. Will is the culture.

“The skill is the technical piece,” she says. “ Even if you get the whole leadership team and everybody in the company aligned around ‘We want to do quality better!’ you don’t do it simply by cheerleading.” You’ve got to have the tools to do it. The standards. The methods. The data.

Quality is something that everyone contributes to. “Quality is never delivered by the quality organization,” she says. The quality organization can facilitate it. But the entire organization makes it happen.

4. “We always define quality the way our customers define it,” Goeser explains. It is a matter of looking at three primary things: (1) the vehicle experience over the life of the vehicle; (2) the sales and service experience; (3) waste.

Waste? “The customer doesn’t want to pay for it, and neither do we.” She points out, “What you find when you follow the data-driven process of Six Sigma is that if you don’t have a capable process, if you have too much variability in a process, there will be waste.” It could be reworking a sales process. Or reworking a vehicle at the end of the line. “Reducing variability, increasing process capability, getting it right the first time—that adds value.”

5. Goeser’s undergraduate degree is in mathematics (from Penn State). So perhaps it isn’t surprising that she talks about a Six Sigma-driven use of a transfer function, Y = fxx. “If Y is what you’re trying to achieve, what are the critical x’s to create that?” So, she explains, the issue is determining things that result in customer delight. Each of those things would be a Y. To achieve them, you need the x’s. By determining the right x’s, the Y can be best achieved.

She has a graduate degree in business administration (University of Pittsburgh). Which might help explain her noting that they use a “Kano model” to help determine what consumers want in vehicles. (Speaking of the amount of data that the auto industry has about its customers, she provides an analogy with regard to determining where to go in terms of providing what the customers want: “We have a global positioning system. Other industries have a compass.”)

Briefly, a Kano analysis is an approach to determining customer requirements by diagramming three things: basis requirements, variable requirements, and latent requirements, or (1) the minimal, (2) the pleasing, (3) the delightful.

6. Ford has its share of quality problems. Perhaps more than its share. But one thing is certain: When it comes to improving quality, Louise Goeser will figure it out.