By Bruce Beer, PMP:

This is the first of two posts.

How can a company that built its reputation on quality have been in the state where they seemed to be pilloried from all directions due to quality failures?

Toyota was in trouble, their sales were in crisis, their reputation in tatters, they spent billions on recalls to correct faults, and there was still considerable doubt whether the acceleration problem was actually resolved. There was the floor mat, then the “sticky” gas pedal, and then a third possible blow – a potential computer problem which Toyota had been denying for many months.

So let’s rewind. You are a manager in Toyota during this time and have been told to “sort this mess out”. Where do you start and how do you recover the position where you used to dominate the quality arena? Consider M*A*S*H* – the mobile hospital right on the edge of a war zone. When there was a battle and the hospital was flooded with new patients they performed “Triage” – assess the severity of each problem, then work through them in descending order of seriousness. Let us imagine we are the lucky Toyota manager tasked with sorting out the mess – where do you start? The problems appear to be:

  • Perception of poor quality
  • Rapidly falling credibility
  • Lack of trust by exiting customers
  • Lack of enthusiasm to buy Toyota cars by potential customers leading to
  • Falling sales
  • Perception that there is lack of recognition of the seriousness of the problem by top management
  • No immediate end in sight for the acceleration problems
  • Massive expenditure on recalls, not once, but twice, with the possibility of a third if the computer software is found to be defective.
  • Production has halted in some of the major factories around the world and staff have had to be laid off.

It doesn’t take more than a couple of brain cells to realize that there are two key root causes of the Toyota problems. Firstly there appears to be lack of quality control and quality management, secondly is the perception that the company management is very reluctant to admit there are problems and will not do anything about it until they are forced to. So maybe the first triage activity to “stop the bleeding” might be to focus on reversing the public’s perception that Toyota quality is poor and their management is reluctant to accept responsibility.

In Part 2, we will look at a few options they may have wanted to consider.