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Jay Zhou

Quality Insider

Excellence Is Not an Event; It’s a Habit

Standardization worldwide is key to speaking the language of quality

Published: Tuesday, December 4, 2012 - 14:10

Ford Motor Co. has 65 major plants and facilities on six continents. How does a big company like Ford ensure all the stakeholders are invested in making sure excellence is a habit, not a series of one-off events? Achieving excellence is not something we do once and then pat ourselves on the back; it’s something we do every day, like brushing our teeth.

At Ford, we develop our habit of excellence by following a standardized quality operating system, which includes standardized information flow, infrastructure, time and data management, and processes and tools. When everyone is looking at the standardized charts and metrics, there is less room for error and more time to solve problems. When everyone is speaking the same language of the standardized quality operating system, there are fewer interpretations, and you can find many issues before they ever get to the customer.

It is no small job to instill these practices and common processes among the engineering centers, manufacturing plants, and supplier sites Ford uses worldwide. Our quality team—from Bennie Fowler, the quality group vice president, to quality engineers—is on the journey of learning, teaching, applying, and replicating the proven quality operating system. This task is made easier with the cross fertilization of best practices around the globe from the Americas to Asia and all spots in between.

For example, the Ford Focus is produced at nine locations. It is imperative that quality standards are implemented, measured, and maintained across the various Focus production lines, and that best practices are shared and replicated as fast as possible. To achieve these, our quality team has provided various training to these plants. Our quality leaders have made numerous visits to these facilities. I accompanied Fowler and visited the Focus plants in the United States, China, Germany, and Thailand. We reviewed the Russia Focus quality via WebEx and audio communication. When you use standard templates for reviews and visits, language is no longer a barrier, and you can zoom in on issues immediately.

I’ve spent the past few years teaching Ford employees and suppliers around the globe about the “language of quality” and problem solving, seeking to identify and correct problems. I have made 90 training visits in 20 countries to 52 Ford and supplier sites and trained more than 8,000 people. During these training sessions it is essential that we are able to bring the message of “why we are here” home, and the reason for each and every session is the same: connecting the voice of the customer with shop floor operations, containing customer concerns at plants, and building customer satisfaction through the highest standards of production.

When we visited transmission plants in Mexico, Slovakia, and Italy, we shared the customer feedback data from China where customers are using the transmissions. In my recent visit to a compressor plant in China, we shared the customer feedback from the United States and South America where customers are using the compressors. With specific voice-of-the-customer data in front of plant managers, quality managers, and operators, everyone gets engaged and motivated to improve products and processes. With the specific data, we are also able to draw a line to see if continuous improvements have been made.


Jay Zhou speaks with employees at Ford’s GJT transmission plant in China.

Each supplier or Ford plant we visit is part of the overarching goal to build customer satisfaction. This has to be improved from the bottom up across all plants and every supplier. Using shared standard processes helps do that, but to properly apply such processes, one must first understand the relevance to the specific site, how it needs to be communicated, and what the benefits will be for each team involved.

That is why before visiting a plant or its supplier, I spend several weeks studying to make sure I understand what a particular site does and what its challenges are, its cultures, its process layouts, and prepare the voice-of-the-customer data. This way I can best engage people in discussion, make connections between the customer concerns and shop floor operations, transfer knowledge for sustainable business results, and help solve problems.

When we arrive, we usually start with the “why we are here” customer feedback data and then we walk the floor to identify issues and find opportunities for improvement. Without this hands-on engagement, it is difficult to effectively solve problems. Unity sets the tone of shared investment necessary for success.


Team photo of managers and engineers from Ford’s Visteon and Halla plants in China

After the training and visit, we produce an action plan that incorporates shared responsibility for the improvement we hope to (and will) achieve. Sometimes we have a team photo to remind us that “Coming together is a beginning. Keeping together is progress. Working together is a success.”

The intention is using knowledge to learn the necessary requirements of producing defect-free parts or entire vehicles and leveraging the acquired skills to teach and apply this capability into repeatable processes.

The fundamental question remains, however: Does it work? Results from Ford’s 2012 Global Quality Research System show strong improvements, especially in Asia Pacific and Africa.

The 2012 findings in the region highlight best-ever levels in quality performance as measured by “things gone wrong” (TGW) and customer satisfaction—a significant milestone of our quality journey to be the best in the world for quality for all markets and vehicle segments. More in detail, TGW improved by 21 percent from 2011 and that reflects a significant improvement in customer satisfaction, which improved by 8 percentage points, reaching its best-ever level.

This journey is about evolution and transformation. Initially, there was no standard for quality measurement and no standard process for customer feedback. Now we have a standard process for listening to our customers and building upon the feedback in all Ford locations.

It is important to understand customer concerns so we can correct them. We pay attention to every detail and listen to customers through customer clinic events where we gather customers and ask them about their cars. We also survey thousands of customers as well as call them to get feedback.

We listen to the customer in every aspect, transfer their wants, needs, and concerns to design better products and continue to listen and improve as we move forward.

Ford quality reflects hard work and the dedication of everyone at Ford. The key with Ford quality is standardization—one process for quality and product development. We have what we call our One Ford global product vision: One Ford. One Plan. One Goal. One Team. By utilizing the best people, technologies, and assets across markets and vehicle lines, Ford can deliver automotive leadership with quality products. This way, we can ensure all our employees and suppliers alike understand excellence is not an event, it’s a habit.

To know more about what I do, you may visit www.fordengineers.com.

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About The Author

Jay Zhou

Jay Zhou is the executive technical leader for global quality at Ford Motor Co. In this role, Zhou ensures quality standards developed in North America are implemented and upheld globally throughout Ford’s product development processes, manufacturing plants, and supplier base. Zhou has trained more than 8,000 Ford engineers and suppliers in 20 countries. He teaches problem solving and problem prevention, offering tools for continuous improvement and job coaching. He also serves on the Ford’s Technology Advisory Board and is involved in the development of technology strategies for the company’s four brand pillars—quality, green, safe, and smart.