SUBJ: Inter Office Mail – The Five Whys
Editor’s Note: Our own Jim McCarthy shared some thoughts about Customer Commitment with the Goldstar team, and, well, we thought you might get something out of it, too.
From: Jim McCarthy firstname.lastname@example.org
Sent: Fri 4/26/2019 4:16 PM
As we talk about Customer Commitment, the more I think about it, the more a single word comes to mind: Quality.
That may sound a little weird to you. Quality may imply craftsmanship or great ingredients or even high-tech robots on an assembly line doing a precise job at top speed. We don’t “make” a tangible product, so what does quality mean to us?
Quality is a word that you could define a million ways, but in terms of business and in terms of what I’m talking about, quality has a pretty specific meaning: giving the customers the things they want, the way they want it, every time they want it.
Imagine you really, really knew how to bake beautiful cakes. If someone comes to you and says, “Will you bake me an awesome cake?” You’d say, “sure” because you’re nice. And to bake that cake, you’d take an immense amount of care and time and personal focus to make sure that cake was truly awesome. That kind of quality is often called craftsmanship (or craftspersonship, I suppose).
But what happens if you have to bake a million cakes for a million people, and they want different colors, flavors and decorations? You can’t take the same approach as you would if you were baking one, big, beautiful My Little Pony cake. You’d need something else.
You’d need a process.
A process is just a way of doing things again and again, and ultimately, the quality of the process equals the quality of the product.
When the process has flaws (as all processes do), those flaws show up in the product in some way, big or small. To fix the product, you could do one of two things: Take the not-so-great product and repair it OR you could repair the process.
Years ago, the world’s major car companies had that exact same choice, but came up with different answers. To be specific and name names, General Motors (by far the largest car company for most of the 20th century) did the first thing: If a car came off the production line and something was wrong with it, you sent it to the ‘rework’ area and fixed it up. No problem. Ish.
Toyota did it differently. When something came out wrong, they fixed the process.
On every assembly line at every major workstation, there’s a cord hanging down above the workstation. It’s there so that workers can stop the line. One worker can pull the cord and bring the entire production line to a halt. As you can imagine, that’s not what people want. They want that line to run as fast as it can, producing as much stuff as it can. So pulling the cord is a big deal for any company.
But GM and Toyota handled this issue very differently. At GM, if you pulled that cord, you better be about to get your arm torn off. Do NOT stop the line. Do NOT pull the cord, because that wouldn’t be efficient. You can probably imagine. And even then, you’d probably get more than a few dirty looks.
At Toyota, though, you were told to pull the cord anytime something wasn’t right. And if you did, it wasn’t punished. Instead, your entire work group would gather around the spot where the problem happened so that they could figure out what in the process was wrong. By doing this, they were working not just on the cars they were making, but on the process itself.
Over time, where do you think people actually pulled the cord more often? If you guessed GM, you’d be right, because the arm-ripping problems that never got solved, kept happening. At Toyota, quality in the process gradually keeps improving until you reach near-perfection. In 1970, Toyota was barely in the top 10 carmakers in the US. By 2005, it was No. 2 in GM’s home market and No. 1 worldwide!
But even today, if you see a problem at Toyota, you pull the cord. The good news is that GM and the other companies adopted methods that are much closer to the Toyota way (invented by an American btw) and as a result cars overall have just gotten better and better and better.
So, what does this mean to you, to us? Well, in fact, we have processes galore. Everything we do is done in a process, virtually. As we get more and more focused on what it means to deliver on the Customer Commitment, we can make progress faster by thinking about a quality-based process, a system that tends to deliver top-notch results. That could be in the area of customer service, working with venue partners, changes to the site or app, it could be anything.
Finally, I want to share with you the method that Toyota pioneered in how to work on process. It’s called the Five Whys. This is what the group would do when somebody pulled the cord to try to get to the heart of the matter, the real cause of the problem, and one that could be prevented so that it just didn’t happen again. Or at least it happened more rarely.
Rather than explain it, I’m going to share this very goofy video. I think it does a good job explaining the Five Whys, but you’ll also have to use your imagination as to how it could be used in your own group: