Bad News Not Flowing Up at Boeing?
Tomorrow's blog post today… not that anyone will be reading anything non-Michael Jackson related. RIP. A modern tidbit… I learned about the news via a friend's Facebook status update. The new, new media, I suppose.
Communications Woes Show at Boeing – WSJ.com:
“…Boeing had said at the Paris Air Show just days ago that the plane was ready to fly.”
“‘During the last two years…some investors described optimistic statements by management as misleading,' wrote Doug Harned, aerospace analyst at Bernstein Research, in a note to investors Tuesday. ‘On the contrary, we saw the answers as honest, which is the heart of the problem. Management appears to have been operating without adequate visibility into the details of program performance in the 787 organization and at suppliers.'”
Honest, but a clueless sort of honest. Why did the information not get to the Boeing execs? They must be pretty embarrassed (they didn't comment for yesterday's WSJ story).
The structural flaw that has grounded Boeing's 787 Dreamliner originates with Boeing's engineering and will likely add months of delay to the new jet program, an executive with key partner Mitsubishi Heavy Industries said Wednesday.
Trying to piece this together… it's probably not too much of a stretch to assume that people in Boeing KNEW that there were problems or likely delays.
This week, however, Boeing said its engineers and senior executives alike had known since May of the structural problem that will keep the jet grounded, possibly for months.
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Here is an example I learned about a couple of months after the fact.
A local business unit leader issued a new edict to “force” the correction of a long standing problem. He stated, "there will be no more 'stealing' of items from kits to make up for kits sent in from the supplier with missing, defective, or incorrect items." (I am sure similar things occur in hospitals.)
The supervisors “fixed” the problem by no longer reporting incidences of missing or wrong kit items while they continued to break into kits to retrieve the parts they needed.
The policy had changed nothing for the better – it only made matters worse – the bad news (quality info about the kit problem) was no longer filtering up to those at the top.
I don’t blame the supervisors. They had seen this kind of thing before and figured the issue would go unresolved. They just decided to keep things moving. I don’t see anything wrong with the unit leader “putting his foot down” and demanding action either. He was relatively new and was just trying to get a handle on things.
The problem was the absence of a process for:
– taking on the new edict as a problem solving project
– playing “catchball” to get common understanding and agreement on a plan of action
– assigning resources and adjusting the project schedule to merge the new effort with work already underway
Without these key process ingredients present, the policy was unlikely to succeed right from the start.
While this episode exposes internal communication issues in Boeing, it appears that the root causes for these delays are elsewhere and much deep rooted.
Major flaw I notice in this case with Boeing, a company touted as a lean leader in North America, is the efficacy of Lean Engineering practices on the ground.
Apparently Boeing’s quest for technology innovation (example: use of light weight composite technologies in unproven areas of aircraft manufacturing) without adequate ‘front loading’ of the system is one of the main reasons for this issue. Fundamentally, the technology innovation has been adopted in the product even before the technology is matured for that application. There seems to be no alternate design solutions Boeing has thought of to counter the risks associated with their innovation. This is fundamental requirement of ‘Set Based Concurrent Engineering’ in lean engineering.
Of course, the subsequent product performance issues and lack of communication flow are all consequences of this basic issue.
I don’t think even companies like Boeing have realized the importance of engineering function (especially ‘front loading’ of multiple concepts) that determines the fate of their product and in turn the growth prospects of the company.
Constant ‘undue’ pressure on engineering schedule and cost targets leads to such costly ‘reworks’…