6-Sigma and Lemon Law Cases

I am sorry. I cannot answer for your spiritual condition. If you are in bad graces with God, that is your problem. I really don’t know, generally, why it was you and not your neighbor, who may or may not have deserved it more than you. That it would happen to someone, I knew with absolute certainty.

One of the more prevalent buzzwords (phrases) floating around the business world these days is 6-Sigma. Sigma is a Greek letter and a mathematical symbol. As a mathematical symbol, it has considerable significance in statistics. Without getting into too many details, statistics is the mathematics of prediction. You flip a coin fifty times, how many times will it come up heads and how many times will it come up tails, that sort of stuff. Or to continue with the gambling example, what’s the chance that you will draw successfully to an inside straight at the poker table. (it ain’t good!)

As a buzzword, six-sigma is a method of improving quality in production and in other processes. The easiest way to get a grip on it is imagine you have just manufactured a million bricks. If the quality of processes and quality of materials were held to the six-sigma standard, 3.4 bricks out of the million would be certain to be defective and the rest would be good. That’s not too shabby. In fact it is one of the holy grails of modern manufacturing.

There are several very large American manufacturers who espouse this methodology and claim to have been very successful with it. Motorola and GE are two such. It should be noted that not one American automobile manufacturer has taken to these techniques to improve their manufacturing quality.

It’s a mystery. In the 80’s, during the great wake up, when American manufacturers realized belatedly that Japanese manufacturers were kicking their collective butts, several of the auto manufacturers turned to W. Edwards Deming, an American who taught the Japanese about quality. He did as well here as he could in an environment that was inherently flawed. There were in place problems that doomed the very excellent ideas and teachings of Mr. Deming.

I said two problems. There are probably a dozen others, but two stand out in my mind: Unions and the quarterly report. Other observers of the quality scene probably have other ideas. The old-line unions in Detroit and other automobile manufacturing centers are so enthralled with figuring out how to avoid work, or get paid for not working, they have little time to learn how to improve what they do. They simply cannot shake of the idea that if they improve their products there will be more work, not less. The great Japanese manufacturers are proof that quality does produce more jobs.

As for the quarterly report, it works this way. To improve anything takes time. You have to have a plan that exceeds three months. (a business quarter) Young business people coming out of American universities are taught quite carefully that if they want to succeed they must time their efforts to the quarterly report, the three-month cycle of our business world. In those schools they also acquire the ethical standards of an alley cat. The Japanese plan on 1-year, 5-year, 10-year and even 50-year cycles. You will often hear the various leading lights of the American business world paying lip service to quality improvement programs, but finding those who will commit to long-term efforts that exceed a year is very rare.

The proof of the efficacy of real quality improvement shows up in many ways. The one most familiar here in thislemon law office is in the number of lemon cases produced by each of the automobile manufacturers for equal periods of time. So far in 2006 Toyota, who produces nearly as many vehicles as GMC, has less than one third as many lemon law cases as GMC. The same thing goes for Honda. The figures are startling. And lest you statisticians at the auto manufacturers want to argue the numbers, our statistical sample is indeed large enough to be valid.

Finally, let’s go back to 6-Sigma. If anyone reading this thinks that modern American machining processes, that is, methods to shape, grind and finish metal and plastic parts is being performed to a 6-sigma standard, I would suggest to hop a plane to Las Vegas and have a try at that inside straight. If they are maintaining 3-sigma for all of the manufacturing processes (1000 defects in a million parts produced), I would be astonished.

So, that was a lot of talk just to get to, why you? What did you do to deserve this? The why is there and it is quite clear. Your automobile has between 10,000 and 15,000 components. Instead of throwing away the bad parts, they put them in your car so as not to upset the quarterly report. Bad parts wear many times faster than good ones. Bad parts cause other parts, even good ones, to malfunction. As far as deserving to be in a vehicle that stops on the freeway and scares the hell out of you and your family, perhaps you don’t deserve it. But to be totally honest, and where your family’s life is at stake, you should be, you could have researched which vehicles were made with the best, highest quality processes and purchased one.

I truly wish I could buy a vehicle from Ford or GMC or any other American manufacturer, and have confidence that it would last for three or four years and not die unexpectedly on the freeway. The idea of becoming junk food sliced and diced on the grill of some long-haul crazed Peterbilt overcomes national.

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