Are Quality and Safety synonymous? According to the quality advisory panel, they are not. But, Toyota believes they are, which is a possible root cause for the safety issues Toyota has been experiencing with its vehicles.
According to the Panel,
Toyota has traditionally treated safety as an integral subset of quality. In the Panel’s view, this suggests that logically, if a quality vehicle is produced it will, by definition, be a safe
vehicle. The Panel believes that safety and quality are different attributes and that a process that produces quality vehicles will not necessarily produce safe ones. In fact, comparatively few of Toyota’s UA recalls over the past two years had anything to do with vehicle quality in the traditional sense, i.e., they were not related to defects traceable to the manufacturing or assembly processes.
This finding, while simple, is quite significant. The worldview that quality and safety are distinct and different is important because while a vehicle might be of high quality, that doesn’t necessarily mean that it is safe. This simple fact is a possible root cause for the troubles Toyota has had with its safety record, according to the North American Quality Advisory Panel.
Please read our series on the findings from the Toyota Quality Advisory Board:
- Toyota North American Quality Advisory Panel Conclusions: The high-level summary of the findings from the quality advisory panel.
- Balance Between Local and Global Management Control: How can Toyota best balance decision making between Toyota Motor Corporation in Japan and its regional operations in the North America and the world?
- Responses to Problems Raised by Internal and External Sources: The panel found that problems raised by sources external to Toyota were not treated as seriously as those found within Toyota. The panel claims that this violates the tenets of the Toyota Production System.
- Management Responsibility for Quality and Safety: Because Toyota treated Safety as a subset of Quality, the panel believes that this has led to the blurring of the lines and makes the question “Who is Responsible?” more difficult to answer; consequently, this has led to the old adage of “if everyone is responsible, then nobody is accountable”.
- The Challenges of Integrating Electronics and Software: Has the integration of software led to safety problems?
- Management of Supplier Product Quality: As Toyota becomes more and more decentralized, has Toyota maintained the rigorous supplier quality requirements it once had?
Because Toyota incorporates safety into quality, Toyota did not have an senior executive designated with overall responsibility for safety until recently. Nor could the Panel identify a clear management chain of responsibility for safety. The Panel understands that from Toyota’s perspective, everyone at the company has a responsibility for safety and that safety is ingrained in everything Toyota does. However, the Panel has been concerned that this safety philosophy might suffer from the old adage “when everyone is responsible, no one is accountable”5 and that not having a single executive responsible for safety on either a regional or company-wide basis might diminish accountability for safety issues raised both inside and outside the company.
Since Quality and Safety were one and the same, there was no executive oversight over safety. This is an organizational mistake that the panel points out, but one that is important. If there’s no organizational steward over safety, then logically safety won’t be a focus.
Having the quality advisory panel point this out is a good recommendation that will lead to a better Toyota in my opinion.