Closing Boeing’s “Shadow Factory” is Harder Than it Sounds


For a long time, I've heard the phrase “the hidden factory” used to describe various forms of waste in a factory, including rework operations and activity.

I was surprised to hear Boeing CEO Dave Calhoun refer to this in a news story using a similar phrase, “shadow factory.”

Boeing Wants to Close Its ‘Shadow Factories.' It Would Be a Positive Step.

The article is paywalled, but I was able to read it via Apple News+.

Calhoun admitted:

“In our shadow factories, we put more hours into those airplanes than we do to produce it in the first place…that's a metric I know everybody understands.” 

That's wild. Spending more hours on planes being “reworked, upgraded, and checked before final delivery. That happens in a shadow factory.”

The Barrons headline refers to “closing” said factories, but that's more metaphorical than literal.

Boeing would need to improve their initial production and assembly processes to ensure “built-in quality” instead of relying on inspection and rework.

Hear Mark read this post — subscribe to Lean Blog Audio

Being able to eliminate repairs and rework requires better process controls and mistake-proofing, among other Lean tactics. It requires better training and supervision, better tool calibration, etc.

I've seen the “hidden factory” in automotive manufacturing. There's Lean automotive lore, with stories that I think go back to Jim Womack, where vehicles coming off the line at a General Motors plant went to “one of two places: minor repair or major repair.”

That's certainly not the Lean ideal, where built-in quality and “doing it right the first time” is what we aspire to. Instead of getting better at reworking planes (or any product) more efficiently, the goal, of course, is to reduce the need for rework through better production processes.

And that plan can't be “hopes and dreams” or “putting pressure on the workers.”

Join the discussion on LinkedIn:

As Jonathon Andell commented, “Cutting out the detection and containment is not the “cause” of improved quality, it's the RESULT. Calhoun is asking the tail to wag the dog.”

That's very well said.

What do you think? Please scroll down (or click) to post a comment. Or please share the post with your thoughts on LinkedIn – and follow me or connect with me there.

Did you like this post? Make sure you don't miss a post or podcast — Subscribe to get notified about posts via email daily or weekly.

Check out my latest book, The Mistakes That Make Us: Cultivating a Culture of Learning and Innovation:

Get New Posts Sent To You

Select list(s):
Previous articleImproving MRI Safety for Patients and Staff: Tobias Gilk
Next articleLean Leadership in Action: CEO Larry Culp’s Journey to Revitalize GE at the Gemba
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. It’s a well known fact to those of us that have and do work in the industry that inspection is not something to be cut from a process because mechanics and technicians can be trained and depended upon to eliminate escapes from manufacturing. I have been on both sides of that coin. I have experienced that eliminating defects are not a matter of skill, education and great performance as it is a matter of perspective. Inspections done correctly, and practically integrated into the process is money well spent. Those two worlds clearly need to remain a part of the process. it’s not a matter of eyesight, as was originally thought. It’s how the work is observed from a quality perspective. This has been proved over and over, so senior managers need to stop trying to get by with fewer inspections. A technician or mechanic has their job to do, and they (believe it or not) have a different perspective than the inspector.

  2. The answer clearly isn’t to cut out “detection and containment” from the process. However, if the items in the “shadow factory” are spending more time in processing than they are serving their purpose, then many its the process that is incorrect. If the process can be reworked to fit the proper steps while also doing so efficiently, the problem would be solved.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.