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Quality techniques spread beyond the factory floor.

Quality techniques spread beyond the factory floor

Dining out in an ordinary UK provincial town used to be a risky business. True, there were some excellent restaurants serving fine food at reasonable prices, but the 'average' restaurant experience was exactly that - average.

Restaurants, along with swathes of the economy from hotels to dry cleaners to public transport, have improved their service quality dramatically over the last 20 years. But one or two sectors have been left behind. If your washing machine breaks down, you'll have to book at least half a day off work to be at home when the repair man (or woman) calls. The same applies if you are expecting a parcel. And if your car needs a service, expect to be without it for the entire day even though the vehicle will probably be on the ramp for no more than a couple of hours.

But it doesn't have to be like that. By adopting the Nissan Service Way, Colliers Nissan, of Acocks Green, Birmingham, has applied to its servicing and repairs the same 'lean' principles for which Nissan manufacturing plants are famous.

Colliers Nissan carried out detailed time and motion studies, plotting the 'walk-paths' of staff involved in the whole process, and identifying improvements to both the physical layout of the workshop and working practices. Technicians were videoed as they went about their work. The dealer made changes to its typical work-bay to facilitate the use of factory style 'standard operations'.

The changes quickly realized service-time improvements of up to 30%. Through process improvements covering the entire customer experience - from booking the car in to collection after completion of the of required work - Colliers Nissan is able to offer its customers an accurate timeslot for service and reduced 'turn-around' time. The customer benefits from absolute certainty that his or her car has been serviced exactly in line with Nissan requirements, as well as spending less time waiting and in discussion with dealership staff.

In Quality World's May 2010 issue, Chishty explains that, as a result of the changes, Colliers Nissan has enjoyed a 10% increase in workshop use, a 13% increase in productivity and a 20% increase in efficiency. Customer-satisfaction results have also improved.

Caterpillar has similarly extended the use of quality techniques beyond the manufacturing side of the business. In Volume 91, Issue 10 of Strategic Finance, published in April 2010, Gillett et al. reveal that since the US manufacturer of mining and construction equipment is now using Six Sigma in finance and human resources, and has introduced the techniques to 850 suppliers and 165 dealerships worldwide. Dealers can share their best-practice projects on the Caterpillar website.

The authors report that, as early as the first year of the programme in 2001, the benefits exceeded the costs of implementation. While the company expected Six Sigma to help it to attain the $30 billion mark in revenue by 2006, this goal was actually achieved in 2004. And in 2005 alone, Six Sigma projects generated more than half a billion dollars in benefits directly related to the supply chain.

More than 42% of the Caterpillar workforce - from factory workers to group presidents - has been involved with at least one of the almost 35,000 Six Sigma projects deployed. Every employee knows that major initiatives and changes will take place using the Six Sigma strategy. And if a problem comes to light, Six Sigma is seen as the tool that will help to solve it.

Companies as varied as Bank of America and General Electric have adopted total quality management techniques, but perhaps few have embraced them as thoroughly and enthusiastically - and to such good effect - as Nissan and Caterpillar.