In the beginning, it seemed so easy. In the Spring of 1982 Jerry Fondren, the plant manager of Holley Carburetor in Water Valley, MS, and two other managers came to the University of Tennessee’s Institute for Productivity Through Quality. When asked why he came, he replied “Ford came to my plant and beat up on me about the quality of our product. I figured I’d better find out what Deming was saying so here I am.” The IPTQ consisted of three weeks of study in statistical methods for process improvement concentrating on the methods proposed by Dr. Walter A. Shewhart in the mid-1920s and promoted by Dr. W. Edwards Deming. Each week of the “Institute” started on Sunday evening and continued through the following Saturday morning. There were five sessions each weekday, one being in the evening, with the exception of Wednesday. Wednesday evenings were free of class, but not always free of study.
After three weeks of intense work practicing these statistical methods, mostly Statistical Process Control (SPC), to analyze process data, Jerry and his team tackled the touch question: “How to start using this approach to improve the quality of carburetors in his factory.” Starting with a layout of the factory, he and his managers divided production into 22 areas. Within each area, they identified a problem or issue that needed attention. Next, they identified which process needed to be tracked using SPC to figure out how to make improvements. Jerry and his team set up the initial charts, then assigned a person working in each area to collect data and update the charts.
But, none of the workers knew anything about SPC, collecting data, updating charts or otherwise. What to do? Jerry called us at the IPTQ for help. We set up three one-week sessions of basic SPC. Thirty-six people were assigned to each class for a total of 108 employees. Three of our faculty members spent the better part of August 1982 in Mississippi with the Holley Carburetor employees. They were terrific and dedicated. We later learned that they formed study groups to work on the homework we assigned at the end of each day.
By Thanksgiving, many of the initial problems had been solved and were being monitored using SPC. In a few of the 22 areas, the workers found other issues to study and fix using SPC. As more and more issues were solved, Jerry and his team made additional assignments. Many of the repetitive issues were getting fixed and put on a monitoring schedule using SPC charts. At one point, they were working on so many issues that Jerry shut down Ford’s production for a few days while everyone at the Holley plant could get the solutions in place. Jerry, himself, was on the phone keeping the customer at bay until everything was in place. Once production was running again and so many issues had been resolved, he commented “People in the plant did all the work. I don’t know how they fixed everything and I don’t need to know. Production is running well and our customer is really happy. In fact, they sent a team of people to come find out what we had done and were amazed at the improvements.”
Looking back, some of the things worth remembering are:
- Jerry’s plant was one of three Holley Carburetor plants supplying Ford. His plant led the way for the other two.
- Carburetors were on their way out. Car engines using fuel injection technology were the way of the future. So, why did they put an effort into making the best carburetors at the time. Until Ford no longer needed carburetors, it made economic sense to deliver the best quality with the least effort and waste. Even for a dying product, there was no value in producing bad ones.
- When given a way to contribute using data and simple SPC charts, most workers were engaged and willing to be a part of the solution to the issues they faced every day. Few people enjoyed dealing with the same problem day after day with no end in sight. Using SPC and direction from Jerry and his team, everyone had an opportunity to get things fixed and keep getting better.
What could your company learn and accomplish using Jerry’s approach? You might be amazed at what you can do.