What do Boeing frontline mechanics and engineers think about this day? What did they expect going into it? How did the day turn out? I'd love to know.
“Quality is made in the boardroom.”W. Edwards Deming
I rolled my eyes hard when I read this announcement from Boeing, as part of the aftermath of the January 5th door plug blowout incident on an Alaska Airlines flight:
In recent years, there have been many complaints about the Boeing culture. Culture starts with the executive suite. They're responsible for the culture, and they're responsible for the results of bad decisions made in the boardroom or the remote C-suite. Or they should be responsible.
Common complaints include:
- Boeing's engineering and quality culture was damaged after the McDonnell Douglas merger, and former McD leaders taking over
- “Schedule is king” being the mantra instead of “quality first”
- Finance and accounting leaders focusing on “shareholder value” instead of safety and quality
Boeing's announcement smells like blaming the front-line workers, mechanics, and engineers for problems rooted in culture and executive leadership.
I lived through a different version of this type of dysfunction at General Motors almost 30 years ago. I don't have first-hand knowledge of life at Boeing, but it sounds familiar (as I blogged about here, for example).
“During the session, production, delivery and support teams will pause for a day so employees can take part in working sessions focused on quality.”
This seems to assume that the production, delivery, and support teams are the problem. I hope the executives, board members, and all company leaders are also participating in these sessions.
“The sessions allow all teammates who touch the airplane to ‘pause, evaluate what we're doing, how we're doing it and make recommendations for improvement,' said Stan Deal, BCA president and CEO.”
Again, these sessions shouldn't be limited to those who “touch the airplane.” If Deal and other leaders want “recommendations for improvement,” they'd better be ready to truly listen and to take action.
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And this begs the question, “Have Boeing leaders not been soliciting recommendations for quality improvement?” If not, what “working session” will Boeing leaders attend related to that?
If the front-line workers say, “You need to stop pressuring us to constantly speed up,” will they listen?
If they say, “Stop punishing people who speak up about quality concerns or inspections,” will they listen?
Will leaders be sent to working sessions about “psychological safety” and what they can do to help Boeing employees feel safe to speak up without being punished?
Can Boeing leaders live this Lean mantra?
“Safety, Quality, Delivery, and Cost — in that order, every day.”
I don't mean slogans and posters. I mean walking the walk.
Maybe I'm being overly cynical. But it's born from manufacturing experience. I could be cynical and wrong about the Boeing day. Or I could be cynical and correct that the stand-down day is performative and more about public relations than real quality improvement.
From the Seattle Times:
Some other quotes:
“Employees will participate in “hands-on learning, reflection and collaboration,” Boeing wrote in a note sent to all commercial airplanes employees and posted on its website. The goal is to identify quality and compliance improvements and create actionable plans, according to the note.”
Deal also said:
“We have taken important steps in recent years to strengthen our Quality Management System's foundation and its layers of protection. But the AS1282 accident and recent customer findings make clear that we are not where we need to be,” Deal wrote in a message to employees last week.
It remains to be seen if Boeing leaders are blaming employees, saying, “You have failed us (the executives)” or if they're taking responsibility and telling employees, “We have failed you (and our customers).”
I imagine conversations like this (with the management person sounding like the VP, Bill Lumburgh, from the movie “Office Space”):
Management: “We need to rigorously follow our Quality Management System every single day.”
Workers: “Um, we know. You haven't allowed us to do so.”
Management: “Yeah…. so make sure you pay attention during the quality sessions today. Yeah… that would be great… Oh, and we need you to come in on Saturday to make up for the lost day of production.”
If you have first-hand experience with this day at Boeing, you can leave anonymous comments on this post if you'd like to share your perspectives and thoughts. You can use a burner email account. I'll protect your identity.
Update January 26th:
Highlighting this comment:
“The stand down might be worse than you feared. I hear that it was organized by McKinsey. Nothing says “genuine, in-touch with the factory, and competent” like hiring an outside firm with zero quality experience to run your quality stand down.”
Here is a news story about the day:
Is the problem “processes” or “culture”? They seem to be focusing on… processes:
“Though the 10,000 participating employees were encouraged to speak up about any concerns they have and offer suggestions about ways to improve the facility's processes, it's still not clear just what those workers discussed during the daylong production pause.”
What if those concerns included things like, “Stop pressuring us to work faster than we can! Stop focusing on quantity over quality!”
Would people feel safe to say things like that if they felt that way? And what will management do with suggestions related to processes or culture?
“The employees gathered in small groups to visually inspect work areas and identify improvements. Each team is now creating an “improvement and action plan,” Boeing said in its news release.”
I'm somehow picturing a lot of 5S work… will that really move the needle on quality.
I'm all for respecting people and valuing their input. I'm not sure calling them “tools” is the best way to do so:
“The most powerful tool we have is our people,” Ed Clark, the vice president and general manager of the 737 MAX program, told employees Thursday, according to a 1:19 video shared by Boeing. “The most powerful tool you have today is you speaking up. Use your voice.”
Encouraging people to speak up is one thing. But what really matters is the way management responds to people speaking up and using their voices.
People won't speak up if they're afraid. They'll also choose to not speak up if they feel like doing so is futile.
I'm not convinced that Boeing is really working to create a “speak up culture” with high levels of psychological safety.
Leaders must LISTEN UP. And they must take action.
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