By on March 26, 2012

If GM managers are faced with a problem, say a nasty warranty problem or god forbid a recall, they now pull out a box full of LEGO blocks. The block color identifies the area on the vehicle and the block size denotes severity; the bigger the block, the bigger the problem. Problem solving becomes child’s play.

According to a GM press release, “the process could reduce by 33 percent the time needed to implement a change that would prevent future warranty repairs.”

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30 Comments on “Latest GM Invention: Management By LEGO...”

  • avatar

    Another useful tool from the MBA handbook.

  • avatar

    Similar to what Edward Norton did in Fight Club, they just left the car full of charred bodies out of this picture.

  • avatar

    This is progress: Old GM would have discovered the technique, then spent 5 years and something like $1 Billion developing an interlocking plastic block set that looked exactly like lego, but couldn’t be interchanged with the brand name stuff.

    Then they would have sent it to the marketing department to see if the colour coding could compliment the current lineup, then to the lawyers to make sure using Hot Chilli Metallic to denote an issue wouldn’t open them up to lawsuits.

    Then Purchasing would beat up the supplier for price reductions, and source the Ocean Sky blocks from one supplier and the Midnight Sun blocks from another.

    Specs would have to load individual parts, and you wouldn’t be able to purchase Solar Flare blocks in the same package as Grassy Hillside.

    Finally, every salaried person in the company would need to take 4 hours training on the system, and use it at least 3x every quarter to show that it is effective. Of course, the “are you using Le Go-fast interlocking plastic block problem solving system” Metric would be scrutinized and reported on at every quarterly meeting, without regard to actual vehicle improvements.

    So, Congratulations New GM on weeding out your underlying problems.

    *The preceding message contains approximately 33% sarcasm.

  • avatar
    doctor olds

    Looks like a good system to help manage complex activity.

  • avatar

    So, my 3 year old son can be as effective a manager as GM’s? This explains SO much…

  • avatar

    This isn’t a bad idea. I mean, LEGO wouldn’t be my first choice, but good data visualization is important, especially when you’re talking C-suite level decisions.

    Considering that GM used to function via “Management by PowerPoint Deck”, and that said slide decks were, as Edward Tufte puts it “designed to reassure, rather than enlighten”, this is probably an improvement.

    Tufte’s stuff on this topic is brilliant. Every sales and management person needs to read at least an abridged version of his work before subjecting people to a PowerPoint gladhanding session.

  • avatar

    Wow! Now I too can become a GM manager…I didn’t realize it was
    that simple!

  • avatar

    I would have thought they’d have a wireframe 3-D rendering of the car with the part(s) affected highlighted/emphasized in two ways: cost to fix (or cost of part) and projected field repair cost.

  • avatar

    Years ago GM used giant size legos to evaluate passenger car interior environments. Highly paid professionals made car interiors out of legos, and top managers sat in them to make product decisions.

    One day we had a “bring your child to work ” event. Kids were fascinated by the big legos. Guys had to explain that this was real work, and not playing with legos. I always wondered what the kids told their teachers the next day.


  • avatar

    Your link to the GM press release needs to be changed.

    Interesting that this works of the principle of emergency room “triage”.

  • avatar

    Lots of snark already.

    So I’m going to post the obligatory when presenting to the C level suite, simplistic, is what it is all about. They don’t have time to digest mountains of PowerPoints, Excel sheets, and read a 100 page engineering analysis (surprise!). When designing data dashboards for the C-suite you make them as simple as possible, with the ability to drill down. If they WANT deeper analysis – they ask for it.

    Simple data visualization in real time is a great way to get thing across. K.I.S.S. does not apply to just the C-suite of GM, but at every major corporation in the world. In the Fortune 500 I’ve worked for if you prepared a PowerPoint deck for the C-suite on a problem, it was five slides – MAXIMUM. (the intro slide, agenda, statement of problem, impact, recommendation). No slide had more than four bullets. No bullet word wrapped. No bullet had more than six words. Behind those five slides might be 100 pages of appendix slides.

    And all that effort was worthless anyway, you rarely got past slide three. I’d rather slap some LEGOs together and present in a room with an engineering and a bean counter to back me up, then sweat 48 hours over a executive presentation no one is going to see.

    • 0 avatar

      This. You’ve made my point better than I would have.

      • 0 avatar

        Yes, I agree too. For those who are getting the wrong impression that C-level management is this easy, they should know that keeping it simple is the CEO’s entire job. Yes, people are indeed paid millions to synthesize gobs and gobs of data and information into digestible soundbites that investors and employees can understand. There is value in that, as shown by your retirement savings account (you do have one right?).

    • 0 avatar
      Hildy Johnson

      “Simple data visualization in real time is a great way to get thing across.”

      It’s called a blackboard.

      • 0 avatar

        Blackboard is only 2D. If the presenter has good drawing skills and the viewers have good mental visualization skills, then you have some hope of presenting a 3D chart on a blackboard.

        This is a true 3D chart, which just happens to use Lego bricks as a medium. Could it be represented electronically on a PC? Sure. If the data points are going to be moved around in realtime during a meeting, it could be done faster using the Lego representation though.

      • 0 avatar

        I would expect a spreadsheet chart to be quicker, cheaper, electronically transferable, and more flexible.

    • 0 avatar

      That’s the problem with modern management. They are called upon to make decisions on something they know next to nothing about. Not every problem can be simplified to 5 bullet points.

      In an ideal world, people closest to, and knowing the most about a problem, would be empowered to propose solutions and solve those problems. But of course- we wouldn’t need executives paid multiple millions in that idealized world now. Can’t have that!

      • 0 avatar

        That’s the problem with modern management. They are called upon to make decisions on something they know next to nothing about. Not every problem can be simplified to 5 bullet points.

        Substitute “managment” with “line worker”, and “5 bullet points” to “folksy git-r-done wisdom”, and you’ll see the error of that statement.

  • avatar

    What’s with the red office lights?

    Also, if you need Legos to effectively present your data, you aren’t doing your job very well. This is only slightly better than the stupid red/yellow/green system. You’re still arbitrarily assigning real data to a finite number of colors and block sizes. Jeez, just show a bar chart. If your executives have any functioning brain cells, they’ll get it.

    • 0 avatar

      The photographer put a red-gel-covered strobe off camera to the left, facing the white board on the right. Makes for a dramatic backdrop that doesn’t blend into yet another beige surface.

      If you follow the shadow of the arm of the chair that is on the cabinet just below the whiteboard you can visualize where the strobe was placed.

    • 0 avatar

      Whenever the photographers come to take pictures of my workplace, they have us turn off the lights and then they bring in a bunch of colored lights to make it look far cooler than it actually is.

      Day to day, I work in another beige office. Our architects went all out and put in TRIM, with a different color for each floor. When the photographers come, it’s all white lab coats, colored lights, and they somehow manage to make the place look cool and sci-fi.

  • avatar

    Hmmm….I’m still pretty good at working with Legos, where can I send my resume???

  • avatar
    Hildy Johnson

    Phantastic idea. Color-coding the parts of a car is just soo much more intuitive than, say, using words like ‘transmission’ or ‘exhaust’.

    GM will also build a robotic assembly line to replicate the Lego data models, and a global letter chute system to distribute the replicas in real time – well, sort of.

  • avatar
    doctor olds

    A vehicle development program is an exceedingly complex undertaking. The blocks are just a way to help visualize issues so that top leaders can help assure resources are properly devoted to addressing them. It appears a bit like the red-yellow-green concept, which is far from ideal, but the latest in an on-going attempt to deal with the complexities of the business. Program reviews can be mind numbingly lengthy affairs. Time will tell whether this methodology really has any merit.

  • avatar
    Da Coyote

    Somewhere in the world is a hidden “lowest bar” which determines the management ineptness baseline from which all competent management is judged.

    Only GM managers have the coordinates of this secret location so that they may continue the GM tradition of finding this bar and crawling under it.

  • avatar
    Robert Schwartz

    Yes, GM is run by blithering idiots.

  • avatar

    And they use coloring books for accounting purposes to great effect.

  • avatar

    More typical anti GM BS from BS.Great “piece” to whip the B & B into a frenzy.

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