Not in Toyota’s North American Quality Advisory Panel

Quality Digest Daily recently ran “Safety and Quality Experts Named to Toyota Quality Advisory Panel” as one of their top-read articles.

Good. I had missed it, so I read the article. I noticed was that it wasn’t an article, but a press release describing what Toyota was doing to remediate its damaged quality cachet.

OK, but I was really interested to see who Toyota had selected to be on its Quality Advisory Panel. I know it wasn’t me, since I hadn’t gotten the call, but, I was interested to know which of my quality expert colleagues got to be on the Toyota’s Quality Advisory Panel. With astonishment I read it was none of them! This was a shocker and may identify a major problem for the quality profession, which I’ll discuss later in this article.

First, who’s on the panel? The full panel includes:

  • Rodney E. Slater, former U.S. Secretary of Transportation
  • Norman Augustine, former chairman and CEO, Lockheed Martin Corp.
  • Patricia Goldman, former vice chairman, National Transportation Safety Board
  • Mary Good, dean of engineering and information technology of the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, and former president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS)
  • Roger Martin, dean at Rotman School of Management
  • Brian O’Neill, former president of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety
  • Sheila Widnall, professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and former Secretary of the U.S. Air Force

The scope of work of the Quality Advisory Panel is:

“This independent group of experts will advise Toyota’s North American affiliates on quality and safety issues, working closely with the company’s leadership team and the newly formed North American Quality Task Force, led by chief quality officer, Steve St. Angelo. Panel members will have unfettered access to information concerning Toyota’s quality and safety procedures, and direct communication with Toyota Motor Corp.’s president, Akio Toyoda, as well as with the newly formed Special Committee for Global Quality, led by Toyoda.”

The list of members is illustrious and accomplished. Their charge to reinfuse Toyota’s quality image is noble. Their scope of work is broad and their access to senior Toyota management is unfettered. So, these folks can do a lot of good.

Yes. However, are they accomplished in quality or in public policy issues? I would say “yes” to the latter but not so much to the former.

What strikes me is that there’s not one quality expert or guru on Toyota’s Quality Advisory Panel. Transportation, design, and safety experts are well represented on the panel, but again, no quality experts. This says a lot about the state of the quality profession, where the world’s top quality company deploys a safety-related public relations strategy, instead of a quality-focused strategy.

In many ways, we can’t blame Toyota, because the company is in crisis mode, having to repair its lost brand equity. This is why management retained this high-powered safety and political team. To me, it seems that Toyota sees its problems in North America through a political enterprise-risk-management prism.

A number of critical (and frankly troubling) issues come up from Toyota’s press release:

  1. Why didn’t Toyota select several quality experts to be on the Quality Advisory Panel?
  2. Where are and who are today’s quality’s leaders in North America?
  3. Who speaks for quality today?
  4. Who will be leading the quality profession in the future?
  5. Where is quality going in the near future and throughout the longer term?

Until we can answer these questions, quality will be viewed as a product or plant-level transactional issue, not a bet-the-enterprise, board-level issue. It’s sad, but true.

by Greg Hutchins
Posted in Quality Digest | May 12, 2010