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Suppliers Collaborate

To Support Honda New Model Release

As the U.S. auto industry makes headlines with ongoing economic challenges, and the quantity of offshore parts in U.S.-manufactured cars redefines “American-made,” Honda of America Manufacturing, Inc. and Michigan-based supplier CME Corporation are demonstrating what’s working in U.S.-based manufacturing.

In 2006, Honda Purchasing’s Supplier Support group brought together two of its valued vendors—one an automotive supplier, the other a management consulting firm. Honda’s aim: to live up to its purchasing vision of managing “a competitive and stable supply base with world-class quality, cost, delivery, and development.”


CME, an American Mitsuba company, makes starter motors for Honda in Mt. Pleasant, Michigan. Since CME first began production nearly 20 years ago, there have been no lay offs and the company has added associates, product lines, and customers. Honda makes up a significant amount of the company’s business. When production of a new starter motor for the 2008 Accord demanded major changes to the production line, CME Program Manager and Project Management Professional Tom Perreault and his colleagues saw an opportunity to meet Honda’s needs more proactively while becoming less reliant on their Japanese parent company’s expertise.


“Our problem areas—communication, advanced planning, resource scheduling and follow through—were the typical areas that a disciplined project management methodology would solve,” says Perreault. Honda Supplier Support manager Fred Braun offered assistance by pairing CME with management consulting and training company, Kepner-Tregoe, Inc. Perreault and his Core Team, a multi-disciplinary group of CME project leaders, were introduced to KT Project Management, a systematic, rational-thinking approach to project management that is used at Honda and other organizations throughout the world. KT-trained Program Leaders, Roy Fraker and Doug Chamberlain of Honda, joined forces with KT senior consultant Joe Bennett to help CME learn and apply the KT approach to managing the starter motor assembly line project.

To meet the customer requirements for the 2008 Accord starter motor business required modification of the entire armature assembly line and installation of a new front-half to the motor assembly line in time to meet the Honda schedule. Meeting the installation requirements required completion of sub projects and material requirements within a tight time frame. In fact, by the time the KT Project Management training began, the project was already underway, increasing pressure to perform.

KT Project Management is a systematic methodology that focuses on three main areas of project management: Project Definition, Project Planning, and Project Implementation. A fourth component, Communication, is emphasized throughout the project. At Honda, the KT training is usually presented as a three-day workshop with time for application using case studies as well as the workshop participant’s own project work. With CME, the training and application centered on the armature line project.

Training for the intact project team was structured as three separate, two-day workshops spaced over a period of weeks. The first day of each workshop focused on instruction and the second day concentrated on application with coaching provided by the instructors. Each workshop was followed by six weeks of application, weekly progress reports to Honda and KT, and constructive feedback on these reports.

KT Project Management: An Overview

The first workshop focused on Project Definition. During training and in the weeks that followed, the team began to set their objectives and develop a work breakdown structure (WBS) that eventually detailed over 300 tasks that needed to be done to complete the project. Six weeks later, a day of Project Planning training was followed by intensive application work as the team assigned work packages and then sequenced and scheduled deliverables and resources. The team learned to protect their plan by analyzing and preparing for potential problems and opportunities that could arise during implementation. They became increasingly adept at using Microsoft® Project, as they used the software to support their activity.

The final workshop focused on Project Implementation. At this stage, work packages were implemented and monitored as the team and the local CME associates worked with task members from Japan who had done the technical modifications, built the equipment in Japan and then traveled to install the line in Mt. Pleasant, MI. Wrap-up sessions and closeout reporting concluded the project.


The project met Honda’s timeframe, and the production line achieved its objectives for cycle time and OEE (see chart). Before the KT training, a similar project had missed its deadline, keeping the Japanese task members in the U.S. working seven-day weeks beyond the scheduled return date. With this project, the Japanese task members actually completed work early because of the clear project plan and CME associates were able to perform tasks previously left to the Japanese task members. Other important achievements included team building, improved communication, and greater confidence in CME’s internal capabilities.

Building project competency is part of a transition towards self-reliance and lean initiatives at the CME plant. Self-reliance is also embodied in karakui, a Kaizen term that relates to making improvements without purchased energy. The new armature line integrates karakui in simple ways such as the installation of ramps that move product with gravity which were designed and built on-site by CME associates.

Building self-reliance at CME not only means decreasing dependence on energy but also on Mitsuba, the parent company in Japan.

“We can do a lot of the work ourselves, while in the past we depended on the task members,” commented Ikuo Arakawa, CME Plant Manager. “Now our team realizes that we can do more. Using project management was very good as a starting point. From now on, this is not a special thing. This will be the usual thing, not a special achievement.”

Sam Bernstine, Partner and Practice Leader for the KT North American Automotive Practice, agreed. “The KT methodologies become the way work is done in organizations. With each success, the advantages of a common-language, common- approach to project management are recognized and embraced by people involved in project work.”

The CME Core Team has created templates for future projects and will continue to share their knowledge of project management. Program Manager Perreault is well on the way to achieving a CME project competency vision that is built on training/education, integrated processes, informal project management, management support, behavioral excellence, and culture.

Tim Myers, senior manager of Honda Purchasing Supplier Support hopes that other supplier organizations will receive the same level of support that the CME Core Team had from both top management and associates on the line. He reiterated Honda’s commitment to helping suppliers meet organizational objectives using a model of application-based training—and CME stands ready to serve as a benchmark. “We feel very confident in our project management ability and this new method of training encouraged us to push our capabilities and knowledge to the next level. We actively pursue partnering with our suppliers in benchmark activities that ultimately make both Honda and our suppliers more competitive.”

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