Putting Deming Thinking into Practice

Guest post by Marty Laurent. This is the second of four blog posts sharing Marty’s story of transforming a GM plant – and influencing GM company-wide – using the Deming philosophy. You can read part 1 here.

After two years at the Technical Liaison Office (TLO), I wanted to implement the Deming philosophy. I asked senior GM management to give me a plant where I could implement change. I was given leadership over a manufacturing plant in Lordstown, Ohio, that produced metal components for GM cars.

“There is no knowledge in one plus one equals two, other than anyone who adds those two numbers will get that result.” That quote from Dr. Deming was helpful to me in how I approached change at the plant.

I knew what I wanted to do – which is one plus one equals two. What I knew was not important in the change. Convincing the plant that what I knew would be beneficial to them was critical. The people I worked with had to be able to predict the change I brought was beneficial to them.

One of the questions Dr. Deming asked me during my six-hour education was: “What is the most important part of the change?” I remember working hard on that question. My answers focused on constancy of purpose. Of course, he wanted to know why that was important. Again, my answers were people needed to know the change was serious; it was permanent, and it would help them. When I said that, Dr. Deming said, “What about me? That is always the most important thing.”

Creating Change

The change at the plant was timed around a change in the car models produced. I arrived in July of ’91, and the new model production started in August of ’94. The physical changes were substantial, but to me, the more important task was to change the culture of the plant.

The plant would produce the metal components for both sedans and coupes, which was, at the time, done by two plants. Production would nearly double. I thought about why people would be enthusiastic about the change. Being twice as productive would not be important, so I chose three priorities: safety, quality, and workplace organization.

All three choices are about prediction.

Safety was a means for me to demonstrate to people that they were important to me. Quality was an easy choice. Everyone knows the importance of quality. Workplace organization is a very visual way to see change occurring. The more organized we got, the easier it was to predict the change would occur and be permanent.

Importantly, organization is required for standardization – from which quality and increased productivity can be attained.

During my six-hour education, Dr. Deming wanted to know why we put so much emphasis on people. He liked my answers there, and his concluding remark was: “Focus on people; you get productivity automatically.”

As important as productivity may be, the ability to continually improve is more important. A part of the culture change was to drive decisions down and enable workers to improve products and processes.

The plant hit all of the goals associated with the change. One goal we set ourselves was to reduce the rate of lost workday injuries in half, over five years. I am most proud of that achievement.

During an executive visit, we told the president of GM about that. In short order, reducing the lost workday injury rate by half in five years became a goal for all GM plants. Company-wide each plant met that goal, and for Lordstown, we cut the lost workday rate in half again. GM had been an industry leader in health and safety – these dramatically lower rates demonstrated an extraordinary emphasis on change.

I spent nearly nine years at the plant. I never changed the three priorities. We made tremendous progress on all three. I learned that improvement is always possible, no matter where you are.

To be continued…

Part 3 of Marty’s story will be published on February 1st.

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