Product Planning, Development, and Engineering at Chrysler Corporation in the 1990s

Unlike other manufacturers, Chrysler of the 1990s learned that there is no one that understands a worker’s job better than the person doing that job. One of the most important decisions the Management Oversight Board (MOB) made was to allow and encourage all people working for Auburn Hills to critique decisions that affected their own job. That included the Board’s own direct reports, who were not only responsible for implementing the Board’s directives, but also for recommending changes to directives as needed.

cutaway 1995 plymouth NeonAny production line team leader with an assembly problem could call the Production Engineering Group responsible, when there was a problem with an assembly job — in practice and in policy. Common problems were ergonomic issues (the line worker could not perform job due to awkward positioning, etc.), timing (not enough time to do the job), etc.

The UAW found this to be a novel approach to solving the ages-old “responsibility for quality control” issues so prevalent during the previous 20 years, and supported it.

The following groups reported directly to the chief executive (Lee Iacocca, then Robert Eaton):

Design engineering: taking MOB ideas and developing concept studies for evaluation by focus groups, the MOB itself, and the CEO; the most appealing studies, by the MOB’s decision, were to be turned into public reaction test vehicles, otherwise known as “show cars.” These were built by an outside contractor, supervised by a joint Design Engineering, Pre-Program Engineering, and Financial team subgroup. The latter, usually three or four people, was responsible for being on time and on-or-under budget.

Pre-program engineering (PPE) worked with Design Engineering to turn these into production vehicles that could be made economically and quickly, also providing the “hard points” — features which defined the character of the vehicle and could not be changed by anyone else.

counterattack; the Neon development team

In short, they took an approved design concept (show car or “paper/computer” vehicle) and turned it into an “80% feasible build.” This meant taking the Design Engineering “dream” and figuring out how to build the car, how it would handle, what engines would be used, how the interior would fit the passengers and driver, etc.

Team members from Design Engineering, Production Engineering, Financial, Information Systems, and Marketing were temporarily assigned to PPE for this phase of the program. When PPE completed its job, these members returned to their normal groups, following the process along — since they were now personally invested in it. The result was both a well-rounded pre-production car, and support in each of the needed groups, along with prevention of problems that had been an issue in the past (e.g., sending a car that would be nearly impossible to make, or would have fatal flaws, to Production Engineering).

small car development team

Production Engineering took the “80% vehicle” and finished it, putting manufacturing, analysis, tooling, and plant design personnel, among others, onto the team — all working under the P.E. banner. Components such as engines and transmissions were the responsibility of these people. Again, team members from PPE and Financial were transferred with the project to ensure continuity in the design.

checkerboard square

Test Engineering supported to all three groups, testing critical components and the full vehicle, looking at durability and safety standards, among other things.

Corporate Financial Systems was responsible for all costs, from overtime to booking travel arrangements. The MOB set the amount of allocated money; CFS held the line on costs throughout the process.

Corporate Information Systems was responsible for making sure that each employee knew how their job was integrated into the other co-workers; providing training; and watching for job overlap, which could cause excessive spending.

The system worked to the point that cars were put into production much faster than in the past, for less money, and with better results.

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