Meet the team is a series by Seraph, where junior team members lead conversations with senior Seraph consultants to learn from their experiences.
Today we present a conversation with Todd Murray, an Engagement Manager at Seraph, who previously held positions in Quality Leadership at Faurecia, Behr Dayton and Daimler.
Make sure the message is received
Justin: In your time as a Director of Global Program Quality, what was one of the most challenging things for you and your team?
Todd: I started that position with a big learning curve, as a result of moving abroad and taking on a big global team. Since the team spanned across 33 countries and multiple R&D sites, the biggest challenge was to get communication right. As you go across from culture to culture, there are different languages and customs. English is my primary language, and that typically wasn’t the case for the team. What was said was often not interpreted as precisely what we meant to say. It was important to ensure that the message was clear and what the deliverables were understood.
Track progress and bring the right team to address abnormalities
J: How did you spend your time on the road?
T: The travel schedule was coordinated around launches of every program that I was monitoring, roughly 88 programs in all. Weekly, I would review all the scorecards assessing the health of each program. That review comprised of evaluating the deliverables and seeing if we were on track or not on track. I’d also look at launch costs. After understanding the financials for the program, I would decide what team I needed to bring with me to dig into the program and determine how we would get back on plan.
J: Who were some of the people on your team that would make the visits? Were the teams coming from a central group?
T: When I was working in France, we supported all the division’s business groups. As an example, if I had an issue in Mexico I would bring a North American group from Auburn Hills, Michigan, to the location to work together with the local team. In some cases, I would bring support from our other R&D facilities that dealt with similar issues. The team changes based on the challenge at hand; there would be different requirements if it was a prototype issue or an equipment issue. We would identify the issue, put a team together to solve it, and hit the road.
Management needs to own the true status of the program
J: Where the do the most severe cost issues originate?
T: The largest negative impact related to cost usually comes from poor management. I’ve seen multiple launches where management made bad decisions, costing the company a lot of money.
J: Those decisions are made at the plant level?
T: It’s often a mix between the plant and the regional HQ. Managing programs involves tracking a number of progress indicators. For example, ‘Time to pass gate,’ is an indicator we would use to measure any delays of the planned vs actual milestones. A bad management decision would be to mark the gate as ‘OK’ and decide to fix it with an action plan rather than stopping the program and addressing the issues at hand. Many times these action plans are not followed or tracked.
Working across country lines requires a balance of local autonomy
J: Did the distance across continents make it harder for a program to be managed?
T: Let’s take a step back as far as what my role was. I was oversight for all of the programs; each program had its own local teams that managed the daily progress. In the Director role, I would monitor, measure and train the people on the issues that they have. Yes, certain countries have many more difficulties. At Seraph, we actually recently put out a fascinating report addressing “Why European countries have issues launching in the US”. In my experience, the issue arises from how decisions are made. The challenge intensifies as we lose valuabel time when those decisions are going back and forth across the pond.
J: Have you seen companies push decision making out to their satellite locations, or do they usually retain that control at the home location?
T: It is different between firms. The company I was referencing previously is a French company. They liked to keep control and monitor the programs centrally. The local teams always had the ability to make some decisions. There were global standards for capital spending, standardized equipment, and processes, which limited local teams for those decisions.
J: Are there positive trade-offs from that standardization that speed up launching a program?
T: It does help to have standards and sticking to those standards. The issue comes when you start working around the standard, and you start making an unique situation. As an example, the equipment that would be installed in Germany should be the exact equipment that we would install in Michigan. As soon as you change those standards, the equipment is no longer interchangeable. In that situation you have to have a specific skill sets to set up and maintain the machines, which creates an additional challenge to overcome.
J: Do you feel like the challenge for quality and maintaining standards increases as a plant takes on customers?
T: There will always be some customer-specific requirements, but the basis of the quality management system should be set from the beginning. Regardless of whether you have one customer or ten customers, your quality system is your quality system.
Consistency and follow-up are the key to quality
J: What are some go the most important things you want to see in a good quality system?
T: The biggest thing is to ‘show me what you say you’re going to do and do it.’ Whatever your system requires, do it and do it with rigor. One thing I like to say is ‘people do what leaders check.’ If managers are not checking these items on a day to day basis, the systems will fail. If it’s not important to the leader, it’s not going to be important to the other people who have to follow it.
Build an applied learning culture for lasting results
J: When you were starting out, was there any person, course, book or other training that was foundational to your development?
T: Back when I worked as a quality engineer at Daimler Chrysler, I had a mentor named Bill Arthur. Every week on Tuesdays and Thursdays Bill would organize a training session. By then, Bill had been in the industry for 40-50 years. He would take all of us young engineers, and he would coach us. We would take turns as a group working on the things that we each knew well and teaching those skills to the other people in the group. I was always good with measurement systems and those types of things, so I would get to lead on that, and learn from others on different topics. Of course, lessons from quality greats like Demming were valuable too.
J: What are some of the things that make a good training?
T: It’s mostly, ‘can I see myself doing it?’ People like to do training and give training. If it’s just going over a presentation, that’s not training. Training is ‘how can I apply this in my work to make my life easier.’
J: What is something you look for when hiring a new team member?
T: First of all, any good team member is open to other people’s viewpoints. The thing I look for is people being open and willing to learn. When there is a willingness to learn, I can teach you, and others can teach you. If you’re not ready to take that step and ask for it, it’s no longer a functional team.
No customer surprises
J: When you think back to challenges with a customer when something went wrong out of your control, how were you able to work with them to make things right?
T: Within a program, one of the biggest issues is getting pre-production parts built and ensuring they arrive on time. I’ve had trailers crash, where we lost all of our parts and we had to start back over. You just have to be very open and honest with the customer and let them know what’s going on, so they have no surprises. The biggest issue I see in organizations having difficulty in launching is that they’ve lost the trust of the customer. As long as you’re very upfront and you explain the challenges that you have, and what you’re doing to help improve that or mitigate the risk of those challenges, customers are willing to work with you.
Internal reviews keep the team aligned through changes
J: Programs and the planning for them seem to run from 3-5+ years. Are there customer requirements to keep parts of the team the same?
T: You always have turnover. The thing that you have to make sure of is that you are documenting everything in your program appropriately. If you documented appropriately, somebody else can pick it up afterwards. That’s the key. One of our current projects involves working with a supplier and their program to ensure they have all of the foundational structures needed for success. This requires storing the data and collecting documents in an organized way and then following up with some type of gate review process and functional milestones. When I had program responsibility in my previous roles, I would review with my functional teams before my gate and then review with my management. This makes sure we have no surprises going into the gate. If you have those well documented and somebody does change over in the organization, it’s very quick for a new person to pick up and run.
New customer team members can bring new standards
J: This one is more for my curiosity. Are there any parts on a vehicle that have historically caused more headaches for you?
T: Oh, yes. Probably one of the most difficult is any “A-class” surface. I spent a lot of time making seats, which is difficult because every customer has their own requirements as to what is, ‘OK/Not OK” and it changes over time. The people that you worked with to get early approvals (PPAP etc.) can change, so what was OK today may not be OK tomorrow. That’s very difficult when you are dealing with an “A-class” surface.
J: Well, thank you Todd, thats all I had for you today, I learned a lot.
Seraph’s team of operational managers and senior consultants intercede on our client’s’ behalf to fix crises putting businesses at immediate risk, turnaround situations damaging the bottom line, and restructure operations to improve the balance sheet. Seraph has successfully delivered projects in the Americas, Europe, China, and India. Seraph’s industry expertise includes Aerospace, Automotive, Energy Infrastructure, Healthcare, and Medical Devices. Through our other operating companies, we are continually looking for distressed situations where we can put our expertise and capital to work to create value.