Boeing does more with less


Boeing does more with less | | Tacoma, WA

Lean in aerospace sounds different than the lean I know. I don't know the first thing about Boeing really, although I did get to tour one of their plants in 1998. The size and scale of a factory and the complexity of the product are truly staggering.

That said, is Boeing's “lean” effort really all about outsourcing and cutting heads, rather than investing in employees and reducing waste? This article gives that impression, although they've reduced cycle time and consolidated suppliers (hopefully, forging long-term partnerships).

The fact that they have cut so many employees makes me wonder if the remaining workforce can really be motivated to participate in “kaizen” or if they're just as fearful for their jobs as before? It's good that Boeing doesn't have to hire as many employees in their “booms” now, so they don't have to fire as many when they hit their “bust” part of the cycle.

Does this article give an incomplete perspective? Or, is Boeing's lean effort lacking something? Does the boom and bust cycle of A&D mean they can't be like Toyota, which has steady growth and leveled production?

Did you see in the news today that “commercial airplane” orders were down 32%? Last I saw, planes were full and air travel was growing. I remember Jim Womack talking about the long lead times required to get planes and how that led to boom/bust cycles. It's a classic “system dynamics” problem, if you've ever played the MIT Beer Game.

How can air travel usage be “level” while airplane production swings wildly up and down over time? Check out the links here and try to learn about the “bullwhip effect” if you get a chance. That explains why demand variability tends to be amplified as you move upstream in a supply chain.

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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. I’ve been tracking commercial and defense airplane orders, shipments and inventory for a couple of years for SME. Commercial airplanes hit an unprecedented spike this year, so there was nowhere to go but down. The scary “down 32%” is a result of generalizing from a small sample of data – this month vs. last month, or this month vs. this month a year ago. That’s how the Dept of Commerce reports things.
    I’m sending Jamie a picture of the graph – can’t figure out how to post it within comments.

  2. Boeing seems to be paralyzed by ‘lean schizophrenia’. At the operations level, they are doing some outstanding work. A little higher up, however, you will find Boeing management driving the SEAS program, which is a horrible program for forcing suppliers and consultants into conformance with something that is supposed to look kinda like lean. At the other extreme, it is Boeing that is largely driving the AME/SME/Shingo Prize lean certification effort, which is a great program. A Boeing supplier must be thoroughly confused. Boeing accountants are among the worst at trying to use Sarnanes-Oxley as an excuse to avoid Lean Accounting. And of course, some of Boeing’s senior management is cooling their heels in federal prison for bribery.

    In total, Boeing is the best of lean and the worst of lean – all at the same time.


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