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Making the Case for Quality

November 2012

General Motors Technical Problem-
Solving Group Drives Excellence
by Megan Schmidt

Before General Motors (GM) entered bankruptcy court protection and underwent significant restructur-
At a Glance . . . ing in 2009, the company employed 150 full-time Red X Masters working in its Technical Problem
Solving Group dedicated to vehicle performance investigations. Post-restructuring, there were 32 Red
• The Red X team at General X Masters left and an organization that was ready to get back on its bearings. Instead of allowing less
Motors was reduced by 78 manpower to become a roadblock, the team became determined to increase its output of completed
percent after the company
projects and strengthen its role in making every GM vehicle better than the last one.
restructured in 2009.
• The team turned to lean The Red X team embarked on a journey to adapt to GM’s new organizational structure, improve its
and the Red X approaches performance, and find a way to show the organization how its efforts directly reach customers.
they use to solve vehicle
performance issues to
increase their output of About General Motors
completed projects by
making the problem-solving Founded in 1908, GM is an American multinational automotive corporation headquartered in Detroit, MI.
process more efficient. In 2011, it was the world’s largest automaker by vehicle sales. GM employs 202,000 people and does
• The team’s success business in 157 countries. GM has production facilities in 31 countries, and sells and services these vehi-
paved the way for cles through the brands and divisions of Buick, Cadillac, Chevrolet, GMC, Opel, Vauxhall, and Holden.
additional projects, which
contributed toward a In 2009, GM undertook operational restructuring to address past failures, improve its overall cost struc-
50 percent reduction ture, and allow the company to move toward profitability. The new General Motors Co. emerged in
in GM’s 12-months-
in-service warranty.
July 2009, and the company returned to profitability in 2011.
• The team earned finalist
honors in the 2012 Red X Problem Solving
ASQ International
Team Excellence Red X strategies are based on
Award competition. the philosophies developed by
Dorian Shainin and supported
by Shainin, LLC. GM has a
20-year association with the
organization and uses Red X
as a technical problem-solving
tool, primarily after a vehicle is
launched, to understand vehicle
performance issues. Red X
emphasizes that most issues
can be corrected by finding the
root cause and controlling it. GM employs 32 Red X Masters dedicated to solving customer concerns.

ASQ www.asq.org Page 1 of 6

and steps the team took to resolve vehicle performance issues were not documented or standardized. standardization. GM offers Red X certification in four levels: Red X Apprentice. WPC EGM Prioritize Review the Order parts Develop Duplicate Identify and Confirm Complete Complete Complete project workload and identify strategy the leverage root project PRTS report status and assign customer Green Y contrast. and continuous improvement. Regional/ Dealers. QRD. (opportunity (Red X) Review (investigate) to control warranty variation) data Queue Duplicating the Green Y Clue generation Implementation – Defining – Setting strategy – Leveraging contrast – Correcting the issue – Assigning – Experiencing customer complaint – Confirming root cause – Completing the project – Ordering parts ASQ www. helped them understand inputs. skills in manufacturing situations and have demonstrated the ability to develop journeymen. training to converge down to the root cause of the problem. term solutions based on the latest knowledge to quickly contain issues reported by customers. Regional/ QRD. Using a value stream map. Duplicating the Green Y – An experimental step where the • The team was not effectively containing problems and problem solver re-creates the issue the customer experienced. plant master. the team was unable to determine where to focus its Revving Up for Improvement improvement efforts because process steps were not defined and metrics to track performance did not exist. Initially. The Red X team recognized an opportunity to align the Technical Problem Solving Group’s goals with those of the GM-GMS and Red X problem-solving steps the team identified are as follows: expand its role within the GM quality organization. code-red task force. • Without a formal business plan in place. shown in Figure 1. • The Red X team was seen as a last-chance. and orders warranty parts needed. and identify stakeholders. Red X Master. It also needed to shift its focus from exclusively Clue Generation – The problem solver utilizes his/her Red X long-term corrective actions to generating effective short. lead time. which included: prioritizes his/her workload. plant master. cause complaint. The General Motors-Global Manufacturing System (GM-GMS) is rooted in lean methodology and structured around five princi. launch. and completes the project. was not driving permanent corrective action through the organization. and Red X Teaching Master. Implementation – The problem solver applies corrective actions • The problem-solving process did not have metrics assigned.. The Problem With the Problem-solving Process sonnel have achieved Red X Master certification. Figure 1—Value stream map QRDs Executive CPITs dir. the goals or objectives Red X Journeyman. Red X team.org Page 2 of 6 . short process down into individual steps. To achieve Queue – The staging area for projects needing support from the this. Less than 1 percent of GM per. the problem solver defines the project. The value stream map. warr engr EGM solver.asq. of the group were neither documented nor transparent to the Red X Masters possess advanced technical problem-solving rest of the organization. In this step. built-in quality. the team broke the problem-solving ples—people involvement. prob. global Warranty Warranty PDTs quality CI CI data parts manager PEM/VCE center CPIT SMT CI mgr. BQ. the team would need to address a number of impediments. outputs.

The team worked with the PRTS Using the information collected from the Red X application. shown in Figure 2. terms that indicate opposite tails of a normal distribution. • Vehicle identification number (VIN) breakpoints – A VIN X Marks the Problem breakpoint represents the first vehicle that is built with the latest knowledge learned from a Red X project. time Current Required “Best of the Best (BOB) Projects Project to project contrast exists.” bogging down the Technical Problem Solving Group. also provides real-time tracking of projects as they move through the system. It pleting their clue generation step in 59 days on average. First time resolution time based on resolution quality stakeholder feedback. generation the Green Y Green Y based on analysis “Worst of the Worst” (WOW) Projects WOW projects take > 200 days. These tools also helped the team prioritize final improve- process steps and projects overall. the team assigned goals • Step performance trend – The average performance trend of for each problem-solving step: 25 days for duplicating the Green Y. 0 50 100 150 200 250 300 350 400 Duplicating the Green Y (days) ASQ www. Red X application data showed that the team had been performing outside this parameter. 30 days 55 days of data for possible actions. and group to develop a Red X application to begin tracking projects knowing that the traditional engineering model of making design and generate the data needed to complete its performance analysis. The problem definition tree showed that the focus should be the duplicating the Green Y step. Focus on duplicating the Clue Duplicating BOB projects take < 25 days. the team determined that the “customer enthusiasm limit” to solve a Examples of key metrics the team created include: problem is around 60 days. The Red X application outputted weekly reports and monthly bar Problem and project definition trees. Meaningful Metrics Data-driven Decision Making Value stream mapping spotlighted areas where improvements The team utilized its layered audit system to acquire internal were needed. The team also examined its Red X application data to observe how long the “best of the best” (BOB) problem The team discovered an accessible and readily available system solvers took to complete projects compared to the “worst of the known internally as the Problem Resolution Tracking System worst” (WOW). improvements over time.asq. which are Red X external customers. which is used organization-wide to document all issues during a vehicle’s life cycle. and com- have completed a problem-solving step during the month. changes to correct issues requires an average of 200 days. To meet the customer enthusiasm limit. ment opportunities. displayed charts to show trends in problem resolution time. showing the impact of problem-solving process. (PRTS). Tracking The team used Red X methodology and tools from the Red X the number of VIN breakpoints represents the output of the arsenal to find the root cause. as it would have Figure 2—Project and problem definition trees Determine the Red X causing duplicating Technical problem solving – the Green Y times > 25 days process improvements Group to Project Strategy split: Focus on BOB Problem Focus on problem group to project and WOW projects. the team determined it should communicate project information to management in a convergent focus its improvement efforts on reducing the time to complete format. These data show performance 25 days for clue generation. or the “Red X. solve a problem. One of the major components of Red X actionable information that has been generated to protect methodology is the BOB and WOW contrast. but the team knew an actual measurement system customer feedback to define an acceptable amount of time to would need to be developed to fully grasp performance. projects based on start date. With actual data collected from the measurement system and were used to performance data to analyze. as they • Days in step – The average number of days for projects that were “duplicating the Green Y” in 70 days on average. and 10 days for implementation.org Page 3 of 6 .

which defined the Green Y Dim A B/W responsibilities for managers. Same SMT while WOW projects took more than 200 days. The team dug deeper into data and found that BOB projects completed the step in fewer than 25 days. Next. Opportunity: Standardizing ways to obtain live cases will reduce “days in step” The team also created a process flow board. which is a for duplicating Green Y. This variation led to some problem live cases duplicate Green Y faster. similar to one used by GM at the organizational level.org Page 4 of 6 . to analyze time in step. which is initiated through bulletins as soon as a dealership learns Strategy diagram a customer is experiencing a technical issue. problem solvers.asq. and new 343 Engineering investigation W1 302 Engineering investigation W2 employees. the largest impact on improving the overall problem resolution Figure 3—Strategy diagram time. Problem solvers with – Identify families of variation access to these live cases duplicated the Green Y faster. Figure 4—Group comparison Standardizing Toward Excellence Problem solvers had their own ways of performing the tasks Nonrandom pattern shows projects with required to resolve an issue. SMT to SMT Is there contrast SMT to SMT? to compare five BOB and five WOW projects to determine if there was a nonrandom pattern in the data. = 10 board. The team found there Same time was a potential correlation to the engineering investigation process. Displaying Red X projects helped the team locate waste in the ASQ www. Dimension A = Engineering investigation Also developed were standard task sheets. – Document contrasts The team concluded that supplying problem solvers with cre- ative strategies to find live cases would speed up the duplicating the Green Y step. The board has helped reinforce the department’s focus on process and performance. solvers being more effective in certain aspects of the process than others. This eliminated confusion about who was supporting 297 Engineering investigation W3 whom and who was responsible for what. the team used a strategy diagram. the Technical 8 Live case B4 Problem Solving Group created a business plan deployment 6 Live case B5 E. visual representation of projects flowing through the system. depicted in Figure 3. the team used a group comparison tool. Standard operating procedures were created based Group Comparison on the value stream map to define each step of the problem- solving process and the stakeholders involved. Project to Is there contrast project to project? In an effort to understand why some problem solvers performed project better than others. shown in Figure 4. A project definition tree showed that the team should use a project-to-project approach to leverage contrast. step-to-step time. 1 Number of features 5 Number of BOB samples 5 Number of WOW samples BOB problem solvers were asked to document how they com- 95% Required confidence plete their work and create task instruction sheets for all critical 7 Required end count tasks a Red X team member would encounter during a project. leads. to track goals. The analysis revealed BOB and WOW projects were alike in every way except for the Step to step Is there contrast step to step? Green Y difference. 265 Engineering investigation W4 232 Engineering investigation W5 15 Live case B1 Seeing the Big Picture 10 Live case B2 9 Live case B3 Using data captured from the Red X application. and vari- Same step ance between system management teams.C.

As shown in Keeping Stakeholders at the Center Figure 5. These plans formed the basis of metrics and 33 30 Achieved – 166 12 11 actions and relate specifically to standardized work. • CHECK – Measured the system’s performance. data trends validated that the final improvements were successful.asq. as well as Clue generation: 68% Days in step weekly meetings to focus on metrics for duplicating the 40 Green Y. Green Y time was 70 days and clue generation was 59 days. It also has helped the team to quickly spot project lags and overachieved its goal of 144 VIN breakpoints. reaching 166. system and it provided an additional platform to standardize improvement. The team studied metrics and goals of other GM groups Prior to project initiation the average time for duplicating the and tried to understand how they could contribute to the suc. the team achieved its increased goal of 400 VIN break- points in 2011. which would improve the customer 400 400 experience and better their ability to service customers’ 2011 VIN breakpoint performance 380 vehicles. 80 Red X warranty engineering – project step status trend This approach facilitated continuous improvement as 70 the team quickly reacted when refinements to docu- ments supporting standardized work were needed. as shown by the number of VIN break- obtained voice of the customer data from internal stakeholders points generated in 2011. duplicating the Green Y was would be mutually beneficial.org Page 5 of 6 . In 2010. Figure 6—Completing targeted process steps faster • ACT – Documented action items for improvement based on results. reduced to 21 days and clue generation was reduced to 19 days. The next year. 0 Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul A Aug S Sep O t Oct N Nov D Dec • DO – Executed the standardized work through the typical problem-solving steps. allocate resources accordingly. the team’s goal was increased from 300 to 400 in quarter one because of their stellar performance. cess of those groups. as illustrated in Figure 6. 350 400 VIN Breakpoints 352 338 2011 PDCA 300 281 265 To validate the effectiveness of the team’s final 250 237 VIN breakpoints improvement action of standardized work activities. The team increased its throughput of Without direct access to external stakeholders. Stakeholders were also asked to complete Through the implementation of the standardized work proce- surveys and audits to ensure any changes that were implemented dures and other improvements. Overall. the Technical Problem Solving Group work. 60 Days in step improvement The team also monitored performance by holding since project inception 50 Duplicating the Green Y: 70% daily meetings to review project statuses. the team projects by 60 percent. Internal stakeholders were involved through all phases of the project. and made logical inferences. 30 20 Results The Technical Problem Solving Group now has a 10 way to show the company that bringing work to the 0 group results in actionable information and vehicle Jan ’10 Apr ’10 Jul ’10 Oct ’10 Feb ’11 May ’11 Aug ’11 Dec ’11 Mar ’12 ASQ www. The team felt increased speed and efficiency of the problem-solving process would allow for faster information transmission to ser- Figure 5—Vehicle identification number (VIN) breakpoints vice technicians. 156 166 200 188 the team used the iterative steps of Plan Do Check Act 130 145 Target To date 155 125 (PDCA): 150 2010 106 • PLAN – Developed goals for the responsiveness 100 74 84 and quality sections of business plan deployment 50 2010 VIN breakpoints goal – 144 50 44 board.

Figure 7 Team Excellence Award competition. manager of the GM North America Technical Problem Solving Group at bill. • Read more about process management at asq. shows GM reduced its 12-months-in-service warranty by 50 per- cent since 2009.As the amount of actionable information from the group quality-related groups and above the overall GM company-wide increased. program teams. the team feared that standardized work Transformed Role in Organization activities would stifle what made Red X successful—creative Honing the problem-solving process has had a ripple effect. the team discovered that standardizing the engagement within the department. Total reduction of 50% in warranty incidents • Learn how to apply measuring tools to your program and monitor its performance at asq. This exposure has generated additional projects for The Red X team shared its journey with members of the inter- the team to work on.org for details. Through this additional project work. the national community as finalists of the 2012 ASQ International team has impacted GM’s overall warranty performance. ASQ www.com. About the Author Megan Schmidt is an ASQ staff writer.com. No time? No problem. Lesson Learned From the beginning. ers to operate differently than they had in the past. problem solvers were concerned they would be sacrificing quality for Perhaps the greatest benefit of this project was its impact on speed.asq. the team has garnished direct access to vehicle average in all categories. Contact knowledgecenter@asq. and the quality organization. standardized work procedures may have required problem solv- zation onboard with the approach. In the end. The strategic thinking.1.html. They believed too much standardization Technical Problem Solving Group was requested to conduct caused processes to be lost in the dogma of tactics.org/learn-about-quality/using- data. Authors are available to do the writing for you.html.org/knowledge- Warranty data center/process-management/index.gm. Figure 7—GM warranty performance For More Information from 2009 to 2012 • Contact Bill Merrill. Because more Red X training classes to bring the GM engineering organi. In the most recent GM inputs to the problem solver actually increased the creative pro- Workplace of Choice survey the Technical Problem Solving cess and allowed them to do what they do best—provide every Group scored the highest satisfaction scores of the GM customer with a vehicle built from the latest knowledge. • Visit the General Motors website at www. Time ASQ wants you to share your organization’s quality improvement success story with its worldwide audience.merrill@gm. the engineering organization.org Page 6 of 6 .