General Motors should expect more failed parts — Steven Spear

MIT Sloan Senior Lecturer Steven Spear

MIT Sloan Senior Lecturer Steven Spear

From USA Today

General Motors CEO Mary Barra appeared before a Senate panel once again Thursday to discuss the company’s flawed ignition switches and vowed that GM will “do all it can to make certain that this does not happen again.”

In terms of damage control, much of what Barra and GM appear to be doing right now is positive: fessing up about product failures, bringing in outside investigators and firing employees that failed to take appropriate measures.

And while these are important steps, they amount only to a good, if somewhat belated, crisis management strategy. In fact, these efforts pale against the very real organizational challenges that lay ahead for GM and Barra. In order make good on her promise to Congress, Barra must prevent the kinds of engineering failures that caused the ignition problems in the first place and the organizational failures that propelled the problem to its current tragic magnitude. And that will mean changing the culture at GM.

Engineers like to be right. They like to prove that they have the correct answer.

Highly trained and highly motivated to solve problems, at the point of releasing a design or demonstrating a model or a prototype, everything in them is wired to prove that they’ve arrived at the right answer. The premium is so high on being “right” that even when data starts proving them wrong, they work to show that they are right somehow. They seek to explain what is happening is an exceptional outlier or an aberration; not that it is a sign of a problem. Read More »