Quality Case Study #2

by Chris Turley

Organisation profile

  • Automotive fuel systems supplier:    Toyota, Honda, Aston Martin
  • Turnover:    Circa £40 million
  • Employees:    800+
  • Location:     South Yorkshire, UK
  • Customer quality performance:    > 550ppm against the industry target of < 25ppm
  • Open complaints:    > 40
  • Repeat Concerns:    >50 p.a
  • Customer concern responses:    < 10% accepted first time by the customer
  • Internal quality performance:    > 3500ppm

Business situation

Risk of losing business as a direct result of customer dissatisfaction caused by poor quality performance, in particular the high level of repeating problems and the associated poor levels of service

  • Customers had no trust in the business or in the individuals.
  • Very poor reputation with customer contacts and decision makers.
  • Customers applying pressure to accept external support (i.e. Supplier Development).
  • Incurring high costs due to penalties and cost recovery due to poor quality performance.

Quality situation

  • High costs incurred through resident engineers and external inspection activities.
  • The existing Quality structure was not performing despite including significant experience.
  • Quality activities were limited to reactive ‘fire fighting’.
  • No standardised problem solving process.
  • No ownership of quality on the shop floor.
  • No focus on customer satisfaction.


The priority issue initially faced was the customer’s complete lack of trust in the organisations quality activities, honesty and integrity, not unsurprising given the history and performance both with product and service. The only effective approach was face to face and direct.

I arranged meetings with the key customer quality contacts and their management, during which I asked them to explain their issues and experiences and after explaining my position and intentions, asked for their support and a little patience. What gained their agreement was our proposed transparency and commitment to provide them with effective support. I made sure each contact had my mobile number and email address, and stated clearly that if they had any concerns they should not hesitate to contact me directly and I would personally support them. In truth, very few of them ever felt the need to take up my offer as I made sure our communication was regular and clear to all levels.

The key factor during this period was ensuring that we never broke a commitment we made, we had to be as good as our word to start earning back some trust as the foundation to rebuilding workable customer relationships. This meant being honest with them, if a request was unachievable or not the best use of our resources, we had to explain and agree a timescale or approach which satisfied both parties.

Immediate Action 1 – Gain Control (quickly)

  • Concern management (content & timing).
  • Establish clear concern ownership
  • Standardised analysis and reporting process.
  • Standardised method and content for customer feedback and responses.
  • Provide basic problem solving training to key players and managers

Initially these actions required more than a little ‘direct management’ as the only robust way to ensure that I was happy with the content of our customer responses was to police and approve each one, not the most empowering approach but definitely necessary in the short term. As we progressed, this review and approval process became a great vehicle for coaching and mentoring both quality and manufacturing staff in our approach, logic and method.

The format for concern ownership was established and communicated to the entire business. The Production supervisor became the concern owner for concerns with products produced by their area of responsibility. A Quality Engineer was assigned responsibility for each concern (by customer responsibility) and their role was to provide quality engineering expertise. These two key players were jointly responsible for day to day management of their concerns.

Weekly and daily quality team reviews were introduced which were centered around a customer concerns tracking board on display on the general office wall (hand written in real time), focusing on concern due date.

We updated the document used to detail our investigation, cause and countermeasure (CCR – Concern Countermeasure Report) and sent a copy of the completed CCR with any required customer format response (QPR for Toyota / PIR for Honda) ensuring that the customers could see the method and process we were following.

A programme of basic problem solving skills was rolled out to ensure a standardised base level of knowledge and approach across the business.

Immediate Action 2: Remove the risk of poor quality to the customer

  • Containment activities (separate inspection activity Vs Agreed standard)
  • Inspect for known defects in process
  • Review and address key historical issues

It was vitally important to clearly demonstrate the effect of the change in approach and provide a tangible change point, primarily to the customer but also to the organisation itself. We initially used a combination of key personnel and managers to get this up and running quickly and it was not without problems but nothing works as well as a step change in performance.

Immediate Action 3 – Review of quality issues and actions in the twice daily Production meeting

  • Concern reporting (A.M Production Meeting)
  • Action reporting (P.M Production Meeting)

Implementing a twice daily review of concerns during the production meeting served a number of purposes:

  1. Ensured close to real time reporting of concerns to the whole Manufacturing & support team
  2. Enabled support to be allocated as required
  3. Clear communication facilitating risk management
  4. Provided a stable basis for challenging actions (meeting attended by Snr Management team)
  5. Vehicle for following up actions and owners

It has to be said that at least initially, the meetings were viewed, by some, with trepidation because it quickly became clear that you would be directly challenged on your information, actions and progress, not something people in the organisation were used to or comfortable with. The phrase nowhere to run nowhere to hide certainly rang true for some. However it also became clear over time, that if you followed the process and completed your tasks, you would be fully supported.

Support departments (Maintenance, Engineering, HR, Admin) were also required to attend the P.M meetings to provide support in clearing any blocks and obstacles encountered by concern owners.

Next Stage 1 – Weekly Concern Management Review

  • Team review of all open concerns
  • Support, coaching and mentoring of concern owners

This weekly review with Quality management was established to provide both direct support for concern owners and quality engineers, and a method of ‘policing’ the problem solving process. The meeting was at a fixed time in a fixed location and attendance was mandatory for concern owners and Quality Engineers. Support departments and managers would attend as required by Quality management, when blocks or obstacles were encountered.

Again these meetings were both tough and lengthy to begin with as it took time for our requirements and standards to embed and it’s certainly true that we experienced some significant ‘growing pains’ as we developed this effective format.

Next Stage 2 – Quality Awareness training (start the journey from reactive to proactive)

  • Provide awareness of quality requirements to the entire organisation.
  • Explain individual’s responsibilities and gain their ‘buy in’ to quality improvement.
  • In-process quality training (process design for quality – poka yoke) for process engineers and maintenance.
  • New product introduction (NPI) Quality specific activities.

With the importance of improving all round performance, we delivered a quality awareness workshop to every employee in the organisation, over a 3 month period, ensuring that all employees had received one form of quality training which served to increase awareness of how staffs activities affected our quality performance. Every individual understood their quality role and responsibilities, whether they be on the shopfloor or in a support department.

With our drive to move from reactive to proactive activities, we held problem solving workshops with all engineering staff, so every engineer whether they worked in Maintenance, Process Engineering or New Product Introduction was equipped with both the tools and the ‘thinking way’ needed to ensure that our products and processes were capable of meeting quality targets (the only target we discussed was zero defect). It was important that whilst we managed the improvements in current production we didn’t add to them by launching incapable new products, so the NPI process was developed to include a number of specific quality activities such as:

  1. Review of past problem history
  2. Design / drawing review focused on achieving zero defect
  3. Process planning focusing on poka yoke and zero defect
  4. Pre-production quality trial builds and process ‘buy off’


The organisation had lost their quality way and were engrossed in firefighting, all their quality activity was reactive. Juggling dissatisfied customers with production pressures made all the worse by high rejects and returns. They had no effective standardised process for analysing and eliminating their problems which resulted in a steady downward spiral.

The implementation of containment activities to ensure the customers were protected whilst we undertook the necessary actions, allowed us to ‘buy’ the time we needed to improve of people and our processes. Containment is not something which should be undertaken either lightly or tentatively. It can only be successful if it’s 100% robust, therefore it needs to be planned, staffed and executed thoroughly without exception. Nothing has a more negative effect than telling your customer that they’re now protected and they continue to receive defects.

It’s then vital to embed a robust and effective problem solving process and this is more about the ‘thinking way’ than the documents and formats you use. There are of course various methods and tools available, personally I don’t think you can do better than the following basic process:

  1. Data and evidence are king.
  2. Don’t assume, check for yourself    (Assumption is the mother of all **** up’s).
  3. Use the 5 W’s and the 2 H’s as a solid starting point.
  4. Use a cross functional team to investigate / analyse the evidence.
  5. Cause & Effect is a simple and user friendly tool to get your thoughts in order and focus and prioritise your investigation.
  6. A robust 5 Why process will enable the ROOT CAUSE to be identified.
  7. Think poka yoke…. Build quality in.
  8. Countermeasures only work if they’re robust, effective and embedded, prove them out before you implement.
  9. Check that they’re really embedded and have become the process norm.
  10. Cascade your effective solution across the organisation.

Simple but very effective!


The headline results achieved were as follows:

  • Customer PPM improved from >500ppm to <25ppm (95%) in 2 years
  • Internal PPM improved from >3500ppm to <350ppm (90%) in 2 years
  • Repeat concerns reduced from >50 p.a to 6 (90%) in 2 years
  • Recovered and then developed customer relationships based on integrity and trust
  • Organisation requested by their customer to take on a new project with 3 months notice, due to the poor quality performance of the nominated supplier.

As the organisations quality activities progressed from the majority being reactive to proactive, the atmosphere became more controlled and considered in place of the ‘mad dash’, this resulted in a significantly less pressurised environment more conducive to professional behaviours. Although capable quality departments thrive on the  ‘thrill of the chase’ too much of a good thing clearly takes it’s toll on people. The working relationships between departments and personal relationships between staff developed and the knock on effect on teamwork was clearly displayed in all areas of the organisation.

Learning Points (as before)

  • Gain control quickly.
  • Keep control but set boundaries and empower the people
  • People really are the key.
  • Prioritise tasks by effect.     The Pareto rule – 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes.
  • Visualise status and keep it live.
  • Communicate clearly and regularly.
  • Develop and standardise an effective and robust problem solving process and structure.
  • In-process quality is the only efficient option.
  • Don’t ever give up…. no one said it was going to be  easy.

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