They Have Systems for This
Automotive specialists are cursed to walk the earth acutely aware of a fundamental truth: things fall apart. In contrast, the average motorist more commonly adheres to what I call “the assumption of good function.” They’re blissfully unaware of the complexity of things that must be maintained to keep them operating and safe.
“The assumption of good function” tarries for a majority of folks, even when observing momentous NASA space missions. Problems can arise, sure, but smart people are preventing issues.
They have systems for this.
For NASA, the fact that quality control systems are in place is quite true.
For automotive manufacturers, this is also true.
How would you grade the quality control systems in automotive repair?
And, in your shop?
I routinely ask shop owners if they have a documented quality control process. Over 90% of the time, the answer is no, they do not. The shop has good people, good revenue, and good reviews, yet no quality control process. They have NO formal systems for this.
Oftentimes, a given shop has no workflow documentation at all. Given this, it is no surprise to learn that the types of quality control issues experienced broadly throughout the industry are similar. One could argue that the problems routinely facing shops are systemic.
When speaking on quality control, this is generally referred to as a part of the process just prior to closing out the visit and watching our clients drive their vehicles down the road. In actuality, there are many phases all throughout a visit that involve quality control. As we consult on the process, I like to ask shops to picture a successful visit. I ask: how do you define success?
I was once asked this same question years ago. I learned to define and communicate what a successful visit looks like for us and our clients from my coach, Bob Greenwood. “Our professional responsibility,” Bob said, “is to ensure that our client’s vehicles are safe, reliable, and efficient.”
The most poignant thing about Bob’s lesson to me was when he added to that statement this promise: “We will not let you down.”
Achieving that promise requires process and the full participation of every staff member.
Full participation. NASA level.
As an example, I recently learned that the NASA team working on the James Webb telescope had pre-identified 344 single-point failures that, had those issues occurred, could have ended the 11 and a half-year project within the first two weeks of the mission. Knowing of those issues, the Webb team worked to prevent them.
Information like that reminds me how every time a major NASA mission ends with success, I look forward to the reactions of the teams of people involved. You know the moment. The confirmation comes in and mission control erupts into cheers and applause. The tension felt moments before washes away in a sea of high fives, hugs, and happy tears. It’s a moving scene.
What makes it moving, for many of us, is the sheer lack of “assumption of good function.” Moments before the celebration, the mission control team was seen hyper-focused in their workstations; headsets on, hawkishly vigilant for any indicator of a problem, known or unknown; rigidly prepared to engage solutions and the possibility of intense action to save the mission.
The celebration that comes after is the celebration of teamwork and the celebration of a team working a system. In regards to this example with NASA, this is all amplified further when a mission is being undertaken with human life aboard.
Every mission in our auto repair shop involves a human life aboard.
Yet, seldom do we cheer when a vehicle drives down the road.
Conventionally, our success is only realized, if noticed at all, weeks later when we simply do not hear from a client that visited us.
This isn’t surprising, despite the fact that many vehicles we service are enormously complex. The process of an automotive visit, on the surface, seems routine. However, I will argue vehicle repair is as near as routine today as it is for SpaceX or NASA to put a satellite into orbit. I will also argue, that the perceived complexity of the vehicles we specialize in, or their destination, ultimately has little to do with the processes our staff uses or could use to ensure success.
In terms of managing a system or process that our staff can put into action, we enjoy parity with NASA, F1 race teams, and medical institutions. We lack nothing that these other high-performance professionals have access to. We have all the resources we need.
Our trouble comes in with our desire.
Our desire to educate clients regarding the value we provide as a partner in their family’s transportation goals.
Our desire to explain the importance of mitigating potential problems to our staff.
Our desire to seek continuity of purpose in our element as repair professionals.
My hope is for shop owners and managers to truly embrace their systems and processes.
Rather than hoping everything goes well to impress our clients, let’s draw further awareness to the complexity of the vehicles we service. If there is an “assumption of good function,” let it be because you’ve sold your client not on your unique ability to fix a vehicle…but on your team’s unwavering adherence to a system that you do indeed have in place for this. That is our mission.