A product recall can have long-term effects on the financial prospects for a product and ultimately for the business as a whole. Faced with the likelihood of more frequent recall events due to increasing product complexity and regulatory scrutiny, our client understood that enhanced reactions could save millions of dollars and help to mitigate negative brand perceptions. The objective seemed straightforward: determine what is needed to accelerate future recall responses. However, since recalls impact a wide range of functions, activities, and supply chain partners, determining where to focus improvement activities was a challenge.
Our approach included both primary and secondary research. We collected primary data through in-person and telephone interviews with company personnel, dealers and customers. Considering the broad scope of the topic and interviewees’ limited time, a ‘card sort’ methodology was employed. In brief, interviewees were tasked with categorizing and ranking a group of topic cards. In this case, each card had a different recall response topic (see graphic) and interviewees were asked to separate the cards into doing-well and room-for-improvement groups. This exercise allowed us to quickly focus the discussion around the top ranked cards in each group and ask structured questions to learn more about the challenges and success stories on their prioritized topics.
Secondary research included collecting both company files and external best practices. Company files encompassed current work guidelines for all local functions involved with recalls. They also included existing recall guidelines for other regions and divisions. For external best practices, we looked outside our client’s market to include academic studies and practices from the heavily regulated food and pharmaceutical industries. There was a striking similarity of high level best practices across industries. We then completed a gap analysis for benchmarking purposes and to identify additional improvement opportunities.
The final stages of the project involved opportunity prioritization and presentation of results. Since organizations have limitations to the changes they are able to implement, we developed a transformation map for a phased implementation of the key activities judged to have the greatest impact. The multiple potential improvement activities were synthesized into three broad themes for ease of understanding with descriptions of key findings including issue description, specific recommendations, expected benefits, obstacles/concerns, and alternative options.
There were several important outcomes to this work:
- Stakeholder voice: The inclusion of various stakeholder direct quotes added to our client’s understanding that change was needed and the time investment valuable. While there may be disagreement about how to best use the input, these ‘voices’ make it difficult to dismiss the findings out of hand, and helped to create buy-in for the results.
- Cross-functional understanding: The responses by our client to previous recalls were recognized as generally effective in the end, but the ‘who does what and how it works’ understanding varied across the organization. Work flow uncertainty created excessive communications, decision wait times, and activity duplication. A key deliverable of this project was improved awareness of existing guidelines and clarification of the roles and responsibilities at the interfaces between functions.
- Recall manual: A common best practice across industries is to develop and regularly review a recall execution plan with defined roles and activities. This project provided a client-specific recall manual based on external best practices that consolidated separate functional guidelines and supplemented them with a revised governance structure, clarified responsibility assignment matrix (RACI), and key activities checklist.
This project yielded immediate client benefits and provided a roadmap for future recall response enhancements. While the potential consequences of recalls are dire, an audit of current response readiness and the implementation of identified improvements can help to keep hard and soft recall damages in check.
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