posted 10 Oct 2005 in Volume 9 Issue 2
Applying KM to improve quality
Best-practice replication at Ford enhances quality-improvement practices and encourages collaborative working. By Sanjay Swarup
Use of 6-Sigma and other quality-improvement programmes are very prevalent. What is rare is a robust business process to replicate quality-improvement practices across all business units of an enterprise. To tackle this challenge, what is needed is a proven process to capture, share, and fully leverage any and all quality improvements that occur in remote corners of an enterprise.
Using specific actual cases and related metrics, this article shows how Ford Motor Company, since 1995, has successfully used a web-based knowledge management enabler, called best-practice replication, or BPR, to replicate and leverage quality improvement practices across the enterprise.
In 2001, Dearborn Assembly Plant, in
Gilbert Johnston, automation engineer, and John Kraatz, product specialist, both at Dearborn Assembly Plant, led the investigation, which revealed that the air-conditioners were performing to specifications, but the problem was, in some cases, the air was not consistently cool. Investing in new technology of small thermal sensors coupled with low-cost hand-held infra-red temperature scanners and using a range of acceptable temperatures, Johnston and Kraatz were able to pinpoint the problem to defective airflow. Knowing this, corrective actions were taken. The improved air-flow eliminated the inconsistent temperatures. This resulted in a 75-per-cent increase in customer satisfaction and cost savings due to reduced warranty claims.
Using BPR, this quality improvement was then replicated at ten other Vehicle Assembly Plants, including Kansas City Assembly Plant, Kentucky Assembly Plant,
Maumee Stamping Plant,
Gale Doremus, quality co-ordinator at Maumee Stamping Plant, and her team investigated ways to correct the situation. They came up with a quadrant-inspection method. This involved visually dividing each stamping into four quadrants. Inspectors were now requested to inspect only the top-right quadrant of the first stamping, then only the bottom-right quadrant of the next stamping, then only the bottom-left quadrant of the next stamping, and finally only the top-left quadrant of the next stamping. They would then resume inspecting only the top-right quadrant of the next stamping, thus repeating the cycle.
Using this quadrant-inspection process dramatically reduced the number of defective fenders. Now when an inspector identifies a defective fender and stops the line, only about two to three defective parts have streamed by. This not only reduced the number of defective parts, but also reduced the manpower assigned for re-claiming and re-inspecting. It also improved customer satisfaction with higher-quality fenders.
On 27 July 2001, this proven practice (#10 in the ‘Stamping’ Community of Practice) was entered into BPR by Gale Doremus.
Using BPR, this quality improvement was then replicated at seven other plants including Buffalo Stamping Plant, Flat Rock (MI) Stamping Plant, Dearborn (MI) Stamping Plant, Hermosillo (MX) Stamping Plant, and Woodhaven (OH) Stamping Plant.
In 2003, the Ford Motor Credit Company’s Colorado Springs Service Center had six Access databases and three Excel spreadsheets to track skip accounts. A skip account is a delinquent account for which reasonable efforts to determine the location of the customer and vehicle have been unsuccessful. Characteristics of a skip account may include the following: Disconnected or invalid phone numbers; unemployed/ unable to verify employment; returned mail with no forwarding address; information from other creditors indicating a possible skip.
To find a way to streamline this process a 6-Sigma project was executed by Black Belt Mike Delmonico.
As a result of this 6-Sigma project, Delmonico was able to identify a way to consolidate these multiple sources of information into one skip database. By establishing a common database, the team was able to establish consistency in reporting and comparing ‘skip’ accounts across service centres. This enabled them to enhance productivity and reduce costs.
On 29 July 2003, this proven practice (#7, in the Ford Financial-Global Operations & Technology) was entered into BPR by the local BPR Focal Point.
Using BPR, these quality improvements, productivity enhancements and cost-reduction steps were leveraged across the enterprise, when this practice was replicated at all nine regional offices.
These are just three examples of more than 10,200 proven process-improvement practices that have been captured and replicated using Ford Motor Company’s Best Practice Replication since 1995. A significant number of these practices are related to improving quality. Each one of these practices has been replicated by an average of at least six or more sites.
This process of replication has helped leverage the quality improvements identified by the originators of the proven practices to percolate and permeate across the many service centres and 108 plants in 26 countries that make up the sprawling enterprise of Ford Motor Company.
Quality improvement is taken seriously
Many of the readers of this article have surely heard the Ford tag line, ‘Quality is Job 1’. This is not just a tag line, but an overall corporate policy at Ford. Supporting this policy are three key top-down strategies:
1. Quality Operating System (QOS): Launched in the 1990s, this ensures adherence to a common standard set for procedures, guidelines, standards and metrics that are ‘critical to quality’;
2. Quality Leadership Initiative (QLI): Established in 2002 to support the company’s back-to-basics strategy. The purpose of the QLI is to engage all employees to improve quality and customer satisfaction jointly as a team;
3. Consumer Driven 6-Sigma: Launched in 1999 to improve quality faster. 6-Sigma is a methodology that applies a set of statistical tools to reduce and eliminate defects, and also help improve quality of products and services;
4. Supporting these three top-down systems is a bottom-up employee-based KM system, including best-practice replication, which allows employees to capture and share proven quality improvement practices.
What are the results of these efforts?
It is truly gratifying to note the results of replication on on-going quality improvements, as reported by newspapers and trade publications:
“Between 1998 and 2003, Ford has improved about 18 per cent in initial quality”, Brian Walters, director of Quality Research at JD Power Associates, in ‘Ford’s Quality Battle, Serious efforts appear to be paying off’, Automotive Industries, June 2003
Ford Motor Company reduced warranty costs by about $1bn since 2001, as quoted by the VP of quality, Detroit Free Press, 8 December 2004.
“Since 6-Sigma’s inception (1999), Ford has saved about $1bn in waste elimination globally. Year-over-year savings worldwide were $359m last year”. 6 Sigma in ‘Ford Revisited’, Quality Digest, June 2003
Of course, the company’s BPR system cannot take credit for all of the above results; however, it certainly can take a credit for a significant portion of the improvements.
Why use KM to leverage quality efforts?
As can be seen in Figure 4, with a robust and active knowledge-management programme, quality efforts can be leveraged from a local level to an enterprise level. Also, knowledge management can be used to maximise value generated at the local level to the enterprise level. Finally, a knowledge-management programme can leverage a local quality improvement effort to the enterprise level.
Getting maximum value of quality-improvement efforts
Since 1996, BPR has been averaging close to 10,000 replications per year. There are currently 53 active communities of practice, each onesupported by a Gatekeeper and an average of 50 Focal Points. This, coupled with a high level of enterprise-wide quality-improvement efforts, has helped Ford Motor Company generate a value of $1.25bn. This goes to show that high rewards that can be generated when a high level of knowledge management activity is combined with a high level of quality-improvement activity.
What have we learnt about how to apply KM to improve quality?
Here are some of the lessons that we have learnt.
1. The KM system should have pre-defined metrics to measure the value of the captured knowledge. Defining metrics to capture the value of the practice is vital information for the replicating location. As an example, BPR has a total of 168 different types of value metrics. Each of these value metrics can be classified into six broad categories:
1. Safety: Injury lost time rate as measured by events/200k hours, Injury Severity Rate as measured by % decrease, Ergonomics as measured by Rx case, etc.),
2. Cost: Annual Savings in $/year, Cycle Time Savings as measured by Minutes/Unit, Energy Usage as measured in $/year etc.
3. Motivation: Absenteeism, as measured by % decrease in absenteeism; Medical Costs as measured by $/year; etc.
4. Environment: Packaging costs as measured by $/year; Waste Minimisation as measured by costs $/year; etc.
5. Delivery: First Time Through as measured in $/year; Total Dock-to-Dock Time as measured in $/year etc;
6. Quality: Defects as measured by defects/million; Customer Satisfaction as measure by percentage improvement; Error Rate as measured by percentage decrease etc.
These metrics are built into the BPR knowledge-management system. Every time a practice is captured, the BPR system prompts the user to identify the value/benefits derived from adopting the practice.
2. The KM system should enable enterprise-wide capture of quality-improvement practices. The value of any quality improvement can be greatly magnified if the KM system is designed to capture any and all quality enhancements from all units of the enterprise.
The infra-red temperature scanner example was captured by a vehicle assembly plant in Dearborn, MI., the quadrant inspection example was captured by the stamping plant in Maumee, OH, and the skip-tracing report example was captured by a Ford Credit office, in Colorado. Each of these practices was not only captured by different locations, but also by different divisions. Also, in each of these cases, the benefits accrued to the originating plant were leveraged multifold by having a KM system that enabled the enterprise-wide replication of the proven practices.
3. The KM system should be designed to enable capture of 6-Sigma replicable findings. At Ford, a Black Belt cannot close a 6-Sigma project unless the Black Belt responds to a prompt for identifying any replicable findings. If the response is in the affirmative, the Black Belt is encouraged to contact the local BPR Focal Point to enter the replicable findings into the BPR system. When the local BPR Focal Point enters the replicable findings into BPR, and this is approved by the appropriate community Gatekeeper, the replicable findings can be replicated by other sites.
The 6-Sigma Black Belt project to consolidate multiple repositories of skip-trace reporting was replicated at nine facilities because the BPR system had to ability to capture the replicable finding of the 6-Sigma project.
4. The KM system should capture metrics on replication efforts of proven quality-improvement practices.
In today’s hyperactive economy, everybody is busy. Given this scenario, people will only replicate practices that have defined value metrics.
The infra-red temperature scanner practice had value in quality improvements. The quadrant inspection practice had value in cost savings, as well as quality improvement. The skip-tracing practice had value in improved productivity, reduced costs, as well providing a communised reporting system.
5. Leadership must provide ongoing encouragement, recognition and support for the capturing and replication of quality-improvement practices
In BPR typically the leadership provides peer recognition during staff meetings to all employees responsible for entering proven practices into BPR as well to those who replicated proven practices submitted by others.
Recognition certificates are provided to the originators of a best practice, as well as to those who replicate best practices.
The price of entry in today’s brutal marketplace is the delivery of high-quality products and services. In order to meet this challenge, 6-Sigma and other quality improvement programmes can provide added benefit by using replication processes such as BPR. Citing specific examples, this article shows that coupled with quality improvement programmes, a robust KM system enables an enterprise to capture, share and replicate quality improvement practices throughout the organisation.
Ford Motor Company
Ford Motor Company designs, manufactures, markets and finances automotive vehicles in 200 Markets across six Continents. Ford is ranked # 4 by Fortune 500 and had $171bn in global revenues in 2004. Ford has 324,000 employees globally and celebrated its 100 anniversary in 2003. For company information visit www.ford.com
Contributions to this article were from many Ford Motor Company staff members, including Gale Doremus, Mike Delmonico, Gilbert Johnston, John Kraatz and Linda Carter.