Truth or Obfuscation

What is really happening?

by: Jon M Quigley and Wally Stegall
In the last blog post, we discussed how PPAP should be the quality system, although it is not in many cases.  One reason PPAP drops off the map after the start of production may have never been a concern during the design is the check box mentality.  Check box mentality can be an indicator of calcification of process and lack of passion. This check box mentality is independent of the quality system and difficult to say the reason. A few that come to mind are:

  • Lack of competence or insufficient detail regarding the activity objective
  • Self-preservation (I don’t want to look bad)
  • Overly optimistic
  • Political (my boss does not want to look bad)
  • Lack of focus on the details (time and passion issue as opposed to competence)

Too often, the process becomes more important than the program.  Check the box.  Ship it if it works or not – or do not even look.  Check the box.  Approve it or ignore it but check the box.  Cut and paste a technical report.  Check the box. The check box becomes the all-important metric.  Perhaps we are dealing with a competency issue.  The check box is the product.  Sometimes we have people checking these boxes with insufficient knowledge of the objective of the box, and what constitutes success. For example, we had a design review, with two people, with no advanced review of the document, 150 pages in 10 minutes. Check the box.

Sometimes it is not about passion or knowledge.  The check box mentality creeps in when we are more interested in not looking bad.  Do not look too closely, just check the box.  It can be difficult to tell if this is the desire not to look bad, or if this is the result of rampant or unwarranted optimism.  We have been in meetings where we see green smiley faces for critical development activities that we know are not in a great or even good state. We sat across from another manager as the project manager painted a pretty picture of the project.  Sometimes it is not an employee with this optimism. We have seen management and even executives that seem to hold the truth (or objectivity) of little value, only exacerbating the problem.

PPAP and other processes are necessary for manufacturing and design discipline but an organization/people must be flexible and agile in applying physics, technology, and logic to the rigorous processes.  We believe the ability to be both strong and adaptable with a process comes from a passion for the product and knowing the rules of product development. When one of us was a metal bass player in the olden days, we were struck by an artist (Billy Sheehan) that said you must know the rules and understand the consequences before you break the rules.  I think the same is true for effective product development and processes.

Top-level management has a responsibility here. The management that values “to seem rather than to be” promotes this culture of obfuscation, self-preservation, or contrived optimism.  The culture will be, as one vice-president put it, “like cancer for the organization”.  If the management does not see the value in training programs, and make sure there are non-billable hours to account for this training, they are indeed responsible for the results.  If there is insufficient stomach for the objective truth, the organization will never be much better than mediocre.

At the end of the day, you need excited objective people.  The dry dead check box mentality is not an organization that has a long future but relies on luck or will be in business in spite of itself.   Leaders and managers must allow and bring out the passion of employees to wield processes like PPAP dynamically and professionally.

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