For the Circular File

It’s Pi Day (3.14.2018), the holiday invented by algebra teachers desperate for an excuse to snack on cheese balls during the last bleak days of winter.  Celebrate with something circular: 

  • bounce your kids on a parachute tarp,
  • treat yourself to pie after dinner (key lime, please),
  • or maybe visit the local Ford dealer to have your steering wheel reattached…

Yep, that’s right.  Ford Motor Company announced a recall (on 3.14, no less) of certain 2014-2018 Ford and Lincoln models for “loose steering wheel bolts that could lead to a steering wheel detaching from steering column”.  Ford recall #18S08.

The fix:  “a longer bolt”.

Makes you wonder how this could happen.  After all, Ford has been attaching steering wheels for 115 years.  They're generally good at it.   The steering wheel is one of the five most important circles on the car.

Did a smaller bolt shave a few grams of weight, helping to meet some arbitrary formulaic fuel efficiency target?

Did a supplier under pressure to meet a deadline fail to retool the bolt shears?

Maybe the design aesthetics of a flatter, more disc-like steering wheel didn’t leave room for a full-sized bolt.

Were the objections of an old school machinist dismissed with charges of “resistance to change”?

Perhaps the testing period was cut short because the development period ran long.

Did the product manager, secure in the knowledge that recalls don’t influence buyers, recommend moving forward despite the risk of a fastener failure?

Does any of this sound familiar? 

Or maybe, a hard-working and well-meaning someone just made an honest mistake.  Who hasn’t?  We’ll probably never know, although I hope Ford, for its own sake, digs to find the root cause.

Regardless, there’s a lesson here for the rest of us.  Details matter.  Arbitrary, external constraints carry consequences.  Profound, comprehensive process knowledge is handy to have.  Moving fast and breaking things is all well and good in the boardroom, but someone has to clean up the mess in the stockroom.

Those of us working in financial services are lucky.  Most of the time, our mistakes don’t damage property or injure people.  Embarrassing, maybe, but usually easy to fix.

So don’t stop innovating.  Keep pressing for faster, better, cheaper.  But don’t disrespect process and its experts.  Be careful with those arbitrary constraints.

And don’t forget to celebrate roundly!   3.14