Adopting a Lean Culture at Ford

By Amy MacMillan, LFM-SDM Communications Assistant
November 11, 2005


Ford Motor Co. began implementation of lean manufacturing principles back in 1996, and changing behavior at the plants is one of the biggest challenges the auto company faces, according to a recent panel of Ford executives and top UAW reps.

The panelists included: Matt DeMars, then VP, North American Manufacturing Operations, Ford; Marty Mulloy, VP, Labor Affairs, Ford; Gerald Bantom, VP and Director, National Ford Department, UAW; and Dan Brooks, UAW Co-Chair, National Quality Committee and Employee Involvement, UAW-Ford National Joint Programs.

Ford Panel Partcipants (L-R) Dan Brooks, Marty Mulloy, Gerald Bantom, and Matt DeMars

Ford Panel Partcipants (L-R) Dan Brooks, Marty Mulloy, Gerald Bantom, and Matt DeMars

These top executives spent time fielding questions and discussing common industry challenges in Joel Cutcher-Gershenfeld's ESD.60 Class (Lean/Six Sigma Processes) for the first-year students in the Leaders for Manufacturing program.

There are key challenges in the auto industry today. How does lean fit in?

Mulloy: Lean is the main story. It goes all the way from design and product development to manufacturing and the supply base. You want to reduce your costs as much as possible.

DeMars: It's about eliminating that waste, because no matter what it comes down to, the customers are still looking for the best value.

Brooks: One of the biggest challenges involves people changing their behavior to match a lean environment. We still have work to do in this area.

Bantom: The UAW is also interested in lean manufacturing, but is also obviously interested in preserving jobs. Our role is a lot different than it used to be. We find ourselves working more with Ford in trying to save money and help ensure the success of the business.

Provide some examples of things Ford has specifically done to institute behavioral changes.

DeMars: We created a number of Lean Learning Academy (LLAs). We rotate entire organizations through these academies, which are based in manufacturing plants, where we teach and develop the behavioral science associating with lean learning. A second thing we did is that we started a pilot program on learning what it's like to work on the line this is for our engineering folks. If we have an ergonomic issue, we bring engineers in to work on the line to give them a better idea about why we need to work harder at fixing ergonomic issues.

Mulloy: The Lean Implementation Network (LIN) connects the Lean Manufacturing Managers with the plant Human Resource Managers and organizational development resources so that lean implementation across North American Operations is better coordinated.

Since Ford has adopted lean, can you list three advantages?

DeMars: Obviously, quality has gotten better, cost has gotten better, and customer satisfaction has improved. We'd like it to be faster. That's the obvious problem that you always have, but the improvements are absolutely going the right way.

Brooks: From a union perspective, my three would be empowered people, quality of work life, and safety.

How do both sides deal with this conflict of saving jobs vs. lean?

Mulloy: As you might imagine, this has been a challenge for union and management going back to the start of the industrial revolution. From the company's perspective, we want to work with the union and try to determine how we can do it as efficiently as possible.

Bantom: This has been a very tough issue to wrestle with. We understand the importance of the company getting leaner, but we also understand our obligations to our employees. And we try to figure out ways to accommodate both.

DeMars: Here's an example of some excellence. In our Norfolk assembly plant, we bring people in and relieve line workers of their current job because it's a high hurt area in the plant. And, they are able to come off the job and work for 1 or 2 days looking for effective and creative solutions to fix their particular problem. For example, we kept having line breakdowns in the trim line. We took the guy off the job for two days, and he effectively came up with a solution that saved us about $1 million a year by changing the policy we had for replacing conduit.

Discuss the changing roles you all face. What's changed from 10 years ago?

Brooks: In the past, we were grievance handlers and negotiators. We had nothing to do with process or standardization, but today we are the coaches and mentors of the process in our facilities. It's a huge cultural change that's happened within the labor movement.

Bantom: We understand the necessity for change, and we make sure our people understand it, and buy into it. But when we start talking about lean manufacturing, you're going to lose work. There's got to be a way for us to get something back in return.

Mulloy: In the past, the VP of labor affairs would concentrate on the contract. It goes far beyond the contract. The key is engaging the employees. One of the most important things a leader must have is humility and the ability to listen. Years ago, that wouldn't have been a priority.

Any advice for the LFM Class of 2007?

Brooks: Be courageous. It's very difficult for a person in your position to be a change agent in the politically-charged fields you are in.

Mulloy: We need people dedicated to American manufacturing. Also, emotional intelligence and leadership capability are very important.

DeMars: You better make sure you love what you are doing when you pick it. It is tough, but it is extremely rewarding when produce something you create something from nothing.

Bantom: We need you. This country needs you. So many jobs are leaving the country. We are counting on people like you. You need to be creative and innovative, and I think you need to listen. So many good things come from just sitting back and listening.