Is Cessna Being Lean?


Wichita Eagle | 08/21/2005 | Cessna works to streamline supply chain, reduce costs

Now, this is just a single article, and reporters often misunderstand things or don't tell the whole story, but let's play a game of “are they being lean?” with Cessna.

The article starts off with a nice example of visual controls, a key lean concept:

“On the shop floor on the Citation jet line at Cessna Aircraft Co., a green flag sits on top of a kit of parts. The flag signals that the parts needed to assemble the lower tail cone of a CJ3 business jet are there and ready for the operator.

In the midst of several kits sporting green flags, however, is a kit with a red one: Two parts are missing.”

But, listening to the Cessna people, all I hear them talk about is schedule, delivery, and cost — nothing about quality.

“We are certainly committed to and are going to make our (delivery) schedules,” said Don Beverlin, vice president for supply management at Cessna.

Of the 160,000 different parts that go on Cessna's fleet of aircraft, the company buys 60,000 of them from 850 suppliers — everything from engines to rivets.”

That sounds like a lot of suppliers, I wonder if they are working to drive that down? Of course, it's easier to squeeze small suppliers on cost, which it also sounds like Cessna is doing. That's not a preferred practice, just demanding cost reductions, without also working to reduce or eliminate waste.

If Cessna is solely focused on delivery and cost, what is happening to quality and safety? I hope they are sending a message that corners can't be cut to make delivery.

“It has put in lean manufacturing practices to raise productivity and become more efficient. It adopted a “just-in-time” method of inventory so it doesn't keep an abundance of costly parts on the shelf.

And it worked with suppliers to lower their costs as well.

“We went in and we squeezed on that excessive margin,” Beverlin said.”

Oops, I don't know if that really sounds lean. I wonder if they are just adopting the lean tools that suit them or benefit them, like “JIT” inventory. Are they managing different or teaching the shopfloor personnel to solve problems and make improvements? Or is it just blustery VP's making the changes?

From reading the article, am I being too hard on them? Or do they sound like many companies that are struggling to figure out what lean really means?

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Mark Graban
Mark Graban is an internationally-recognized consultant, author, and professional speaker, and podcaster with experience in healthcare, manufacturing, and startups. Mark's new book is The Mistakes That Make Us: Cultivating a Culture of Learning and Innovation. He is also the author of Measures of Success: React Less, Lead Better, Improve More, the Shingo Award-winning books Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen, and the anthology Practicing Lean. Mark is also a Senior Advisor to the technology company KaiNexus.


  1. Maybe safety and quality is second nature in the industry and it is such a basic part of what they do that they don’t even mention it….who knows?


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