No Trust, No Quality

Rick Bohan

In a recent article on the Lean Enterprise website (“Why Are There So Many Opinions About What Lean Is and Isn’t” by Michael Balle), I found the following statement:  “Volkswagen’s latest scandal should not detract from the high overall quality of their cars…”  (Latest? You mean there are others?) That’s kind of like saying John Dillinger’s latest bank robbery shouldn’t detract from the fact that he sends his mother a birthday card every year.

First, a quick review of Volkswagen’s latest scandal.  VW created and installed in its vehicles software that could detect when the car was being tested and make changes to provide false results.  That means that the cars produced emissions 40 times above what the US law allows.  VW has admitted that more than 11 million cars are fitted with this “defeat device”, as it has come to be known.

So, the planet’s largest car company, purposefully and with malice aforethought, implemented, as a central part of its business plan…cheating and lying.  But this shouldn’t impact our view as to the “overall quality of their cars”.

I’m nonplussed as to why a lean expert would make such a statement.  Trust is the basis of any transaction with the customer and lean is all about the customer’s experience.  In VW’s case, this trust was betrayed, not simply through bad management of processes, but by actively and intentionally dishonest management.  One has to wonder that, if VW was willing to cheat and lie in this case, wouldn’t it be willing to cheat and lie about anything?  And what’s to keep it from cheating and lying again?  Yeah, this crime will cost VW lots of money but how do we know that the lesson learned isn’t “Let’s be sure we don’t get caught next time”?

Lean is all about management making an immutable commitment to customer value and employee dignity.  Management that intentionally breaks that commitment as part of its very business model can never be trusted again.  That a “lean expert” would overlook the centrality of the trust is extremely puzzling.


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