PR is Job One?


Auto writer: Assembling Ford Focus isn't so easy

I saw this in the paper while in Detroit this week and cringed. Ford is actually letting a reporter help build an actual car for an actual customer?? Without actual training? I know Ford is desperate for good news stories, but do you have to potentially screw up a paying customer's vehicle in the process? Please, don't anybody leave a comment saying “how could she be worse than a UAW worker?” Don't beat up on the UAW workers here.

She had a UAW worker (two actually) overseeing her. When I worked the engine assembly at GM for an hour as a young engineer, I had an assembler looking over my shoulder. I hope I didn't screw up any engines. It was good to get the experience of working on the line, but man, I should have gotten better training first.

Marcia quickly showed me a list of instructions. Although it was only about a six-item list, I had a moment of panic when I saw the complexity and words like “grommet.” I later learned the job was even more complicated than that.

Here's what I had to do:

1. Read the letter on a white paper slip attached to fast-approaching doors (65 an hour) to see if I had to install an A, B or C style mirror.

2. Grab the appropriate mirror from nearby boxes.

3. Remove foam sleeve from mirror.

4. Stick some matching foam cutout “thing” to my shoulder.

5. Go to appropriate door and slip wire attached to mirror through a 2-inch hole in door. This was not easy, since the wire, as it is engineered, easily gets snagged between the exterior and interior door stampings.

6. Snap tabs on the back of mirror onto the door.

7. Drill mirror into place with one screw.

She was “quickly” shown the instructions. Go get 'em! Build that car! She was trained, ahem, well enough to call it a “foam cutout thing”??? Why does she stick the foam thing to shoulder? Do foam things just keep accumulating on her shoulder since she doesn't do anything value-added with it??

I guess the fact that the wire is easily snagged hasn't prompted kaizen or an engineering redesign. Poor engineering…. no it's the assembly person's fault that we have bad quality. We should make them sign a card taking sole responsibility for good quality.

The reporter then writes:

They had to save me a few times, though. I dropped one grommet between the door panels, and a few times, I drilled a mirror onto a door before I had the tabs firmly snapped in place.

Marcia and Tammy said they were just happy I didn't drop a mirror, as beginners often do.

What's the impact of dropping a grommet between the door panels? Is that in there forever? Does that potentially rattle? Someone help me out here, I'm not an interiors engineer.

Maybe putting the mirror on is a safe, low risk job. But still, it seems like a PR stunt that's not keeping the customer in mind.

I asked David Meier, a former group leader at Toyota, a contributor to this blog (and future podcast guest). He writes:

It seems that I heard about a reporter working on the line at Toyota, but I am not sure. IF they did it would likely be much different. Probably would have to do some practice off line, and then likely a portion of a very easy job with careful attention. Training is usually conducted off line if tools are used and them introduced to line work slowly. Of course the trainer and regular worker would complete the job and make sure it is ok. I am not suprised by the article. I worked with Ford a few years and they would put someone on a job with little intro. It is quite a bit different, but most people would not understand the level of attention that would be applied at Toyota, but the same problem occurs most every where.

It's no surprise that Toyota would handle training for the reporter with more care, as they do with training of regular assemblers. Toyota doesn't just throw new workers in. At the San Antonio plant, it was running with one truck every seven positions on the line, to keep the pace slow for the new workers.

I assume the Ford plant was running at full rate. It seems disrespectful to the regular assemblers to just throw an outsider onto the line without training, whether it was me in 1995 or this reporter. What do you think?

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Mark Graban
Mark Graban is an internationally-recognized consultant, author, and professional speaker, and podcaster with experience in healthcare, manufacturing, and startups. Mark's new book is The Mistakes That Make Us: Cultivating a Culture of Learning and Innovation. He is also the author of Measures of Success: React Less, Lead Better, Improve More, the Shingo Award-winning books Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen, and the anthology Practicing Lean. Mark is also a Senior Advisor to the technology company KaiNexus.


  1. Hi Mark-

    I’m so glad I read this, as we just got a brand-new Ford van for our Vanpool transportation and I’ve been wondering why a vehicle with only 500 miles rattles and squeaks so much…

    -Darrin Strosnider

  2. A rubber grommet between the panels wouldn’t rattle.

    Maybe I’m missing the point of the article. PR for the UAW and look at how hard this job is?

  3. The point of the Detroit News article? “Look how hard this job is” was the point.

    I had someone email me with a perspective that I’m overreacting basically:

    “Toyota absolutely lets people build cars with little training but supervision. It’s happened many times. Because the work is structured and they do more before you go on the line, it’s much less of a risk, but it’s still done. The big 3 have that kind of stuff going on all the time. Most of the jobs really aren’t that hard. That’s why it’s “unskilled” labor. What’s hard is doing it 500 times a day and then having to wake up the next day and do it all over again. At Ford there was a great lean training where they made managers do a line job for 1.5 days for just that point. Do it for a day, then have to get out of bed (sore) and start doing it again. They eventually decided they could get the point in just 0.5 days or maybe even a few hours. Typical.”

  4. This is not surprising at all. I worked for nearly four years for a Japanese tier one supplier, and had the opportunity to see poor training in practice at several auto plants. But, I can’t be too negative here, as training has been poor at every company I have worked for. There are always more critical things that take precedence over good training, such as quality crises that result from poor training and no standard work!

  5. "Toyota absolutely lets people build cars with little training but supervision. It's happened many times. Because the work is structured and they do more before you go on the line, it's much less of a risk, but it's still done. The big 3 have that kind of stuff going on all the time. Most of the jobs really aren't that hard. That's why it's "unskilled" labor. What's hard is doing it 500 times a day and then having to wake up the next day and do it all over again."

    Pr Jobs


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