Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Decentralizing responsibility.

Ford Romeo design idea #5. Decentralized, team-based responsibility and accountability.

Employees at Romeo were organized to operate a little like families and a little like independent businesses. They were divided into teams and these teams included both hourly and salaried members. However, unless you asked, you couldn’t tell which was which since everyone wore the same blue denim overalls. Romeo’s work teams were composed of 8 to 24 members with each group responsible for planning, monitoring and completing a specific component in the engine production process.

Teams were established in each of the machining areas, such as Block, Head, Camshaft, Crankshaft and Connecting Rod. Teams were also established for the Head and Cam Sub-assembly areas, and the Piston and Rod Sub-assembly areas. The final assembly area, because of its size, was divided into ten teams, each responsible for putting together, testing and approving finished engines. Each of these production teams had their own financial analyst in addition to dedicated engineering and skilled trades support.

Skilled trades on the teams were responsible for continuous improvement, as well as the maintenance and repair of all equipment on their line. Leadership was provided by the Team Manager, who was responsible for production volume, process engineering, product cost and quality, material control, project studies, long-lead funding and team development. The lead engineer in each group also functioned as a Team Leader and filled in for the Team Manager when he or she was out of the plant. Each team had hourly Team Coordinators who were responsible for training, continuous improvement, facilitating meetings, communicating with other teams, and filling in for absent employees at any job on the line. Team Coordinators were not required to discipline or determine pay and could not give direct orders to employees.

This structure eliminated the need for the traditional positions of Foremen and General Foremen. Responsibilities normally assigned to these positions were divided between the Team Coordinators, the Team Manager and the financial analyst. Team Coordinators were the team’s chief trainers. They were also the team’s only relief people. Team members rotated assignments regularly so each team member eventually learned to perform all the jobs in their team. “Each team had their own meeting area,” noted Dr. Lee Sanborn, who directed the start-up team-building and training programs at Romeo. “They also had their own bathroom, their own locker room and their own parking area.”

So the teams were essentially self-contained units, like a series of plants within a plant. Everyone from the newest hourly employee to the plant manager worked to produce an engine that Ford could boast was the best in its class. Within each team, everyone was responsible for improving production. Everyone was responsible for monitoring and improving quality. And everyone was responsible for tasking action if something went wrong.

Most conventional Ford plants were organized like football teams with the plant manager as the quarterback. The other employees, like football players, were all experts, skilled in a specific phase of playing the game. Each covered his or her own special job. Everyone stayed in their specialty and seldom got out of position. In contrast, Romeo was organized like a rugby team. Everyone was in pursuit of the ball at all times.

There were no jobs in the traditional sense of permanently owned task assignments at Romeo. Everybody was responsible to do whatever needed to be done in their area, on their own initiative, whenever they saw it was required. The only qualification was that they were certified to undertake that task safely and effectively. Team members were more concerned about achieving the plant’s goals rather than worrying about who got assigned to carry out what activities. No one at Romeo said, “That’s not my job.”

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