Bob Lutz on Tesla, Threats, & Communication About Quality – and Implications for Healthcare

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Hat tip to Stan Feingold from StoreSMART (a Lean Blog sponsor) for sending me this article:

Bob Lutz Talks Panel Gaps, Tesla, and Why Every Detail Matters — Getting it right starts at the top.

Bob Lutz is a legend in the auto industry (and I was thrilled to get to interview him back in 2011).

Lutz has been critical of Tesla and has predicted their demise.

He went to go look at a Model 3, expecting to not be impressed…. but he was, and he admitted it.

I was eager to see the oft-reported sloppy assembly work, the poor-fitting doors, blotchy paint, and other manifestations of Tesla CEO Elon Musk's “production hell” with my own eyes.

But, when next to the car, I was stunned. Not only was the paint without any discernible flaw, but the various panels formed a body of precision that was beyond reproach. Gaps from hood to fenders, doors to frame, and all the others appeared to be perfectly even, equal side-to-side, and completely parallel. Gaps of 3.5 to 4.5mm are considered world-class. This Model 3 measured up.


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He compares that to the formerly-bad quality delivered by Detroit automakers:

“In fact, the Detroit Three, until about 15 years ago, routinely delivered cars and trucks with appalling gaps, often as wide as 8mm on one side, 2mm on the other. As long as there was no chipped paint from the door hitting its frame, it was fine.

But, he wanted better from General Motors when he was an executive there.

He asked the CEO of Volkswagen how they had improved fit and finish:

“I asked then-CEO Ferdinand Piëch how they did it: “I got all the production execs in a room and told them they had six weeks to achieve consistent 4mm gaps or they'd all be fired. It was easy!

I humbly suggested this, er, “leadership style” would not be appropriate in the US, and thus, never tried it.”

Ah, if it were only so easy as just threatening people.

I don't think we'll hear healthcare success stories along the lines of, “I asked the hospital system CEO how they reduced patient harm by 90%: ‘I got all of the hospital directors in a room and told them they had six weeks to achieve consistent patient safety or they'd all be fired. It was easy!”

Yes, that's not a leadership style to emulate.

Lutz took a different approach. He shamed GM leaders by comparing them to other automakers. I'm not sure that's the best approach, shaming healthcare leaders for patient safety problems, but here's what happened:

“Strangely, within a few months, all GM vehicles were within striking distance of the world's best (and still are today.) And I never saw the request for capital. Years later, I asked Spielman how that had happened. “Well,” he explained, “when we discussed it with the lower-level operating supervisors and the skilled-trade hourly folks, they told us they could do it… it's just nobody has ever asked for it before, so they didn't think it mattered.”

How great is that?? It didn't take a lot of money. It was a matter of engaging and inspiring the lower-level staff.

Healthcare doesn't have the “we didn't think it mattered” problem. People KNOW that patient safety matters. Far too often, though, people think that problem isn't solvable…

But, how many leaders are really asking for dramatic improvements in patient safety? How many are inspirational, transformational leaders like Paul O'Neill and Dr. Gary Kaplan? How many are happy with basically maintaining the status quo and keeping out of trouble with regulators?

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Mark Graban is an internationally-recognized consultant, author, and professional speaker who has worked in healthcare, manufacturing, and startups. His latest book is Measures of Success: React Less, Lead Better, Improve More. He is author of the Shingo Award-winning books Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen, as well as The Executive Guide to Healthcare Kaizen. He also published the anthology Practicing Lean that benefits the Louise H. Batz Patient Safety Foundation, where Mark is a board member. Mark is also a Senior Advisor to the technology company KaiNexus.

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