The Boeing 787 Development Story

Employees cheering 1st 787/10 in 2/2017

Today, the Boeing 787 is a successful product, with production rates at 12 units/month, and a total of 521 flying just over 5 years from launch. By comparison, in 49 years of production, Boeing built 1,528 units of the 747. And, having just flown in a 787 from San Francisco to Paris and back, I can attest that it was for me less tiring than in any other plane, which I attribute to the higher air pressure. It is close to that of Lake Tahoe (6225′) while other planes are closer to Squaw Valley High Camp (8200′).

Back in 2008-2011, however, the news coverage of the 787 was not so positive, as the plane’s product launch accumulated a delay of more than three years, with analysts pondering what had gone wrong. To keep this event in perspective, we should remember that multiyear delays in product launches have recently been the rule rather than the exception in commercial aircraft, worldwide. In Europe, the Airbus A380 was 2 years late and, in Russia, so was the regional Superjet 100. But the question remained of how Boeing, an organization with 100 years of experience in designing and building airplanes, could not have done better.

I would like to present here a few explanations that have been proposed, without passing judgment as to whether any or all of them are accurate.

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Capacity Planning For 1st-Responders

Early in my consulting career, working with Kei Abe, I was surprised to hear him make seemingly contradictory recommendations about the organization of maintenance in a small auto parts plant and in a large car assembly plant. In both, the managers were thinking of splitting the maintenance group into smaller teams, each dedicated to a production line.  In the parts plant, Kei Abe talked them out of it; in car assembly, he supported it. When I asked him why he just said: “the parts plant is too small.”

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Managers’ Knowledge: What Remains Once You Have Forgotten Everything

To what extent should managers be able to do the work of their subordinates? And, if they are, how should they use this ability? This is not a topic I have seen addressed in the management literature, perhaps because there are no generic answers. The manager of a car repair shop is typically a mechanic who can do everything the technicians can, but the manager of an opera company usually can’t sing.

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Teaching Adults: The Example Of New Plant Design

I have recently been involved in discussions of methods to teach adult learners and the ways if differs from teaching children or young adults. My personal experience is exclusively with adult professionals in a continuing education mode, and I provided examples from my recently most successful course, on New Plant Designdeveloped in 2005 at the request of the Hong Kong Productivity Council, and given more than 15 times in China since, and twice in Russia, although never in the US or Western Europe.

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How Does This All Play Out?

It is a seemingly simple question, but one that is not asked as often as it should be. It challenges managers to consider the responses of other stakeholders and think beyond immediate consequences. It checks their “bias for action,” and makes them take a pause to think farther than one move ahead.

If you outsource an item, for example, will the new supplier eventually morph into a competitor? What know-how might you lose? How will it affect employee morale? Are you putting your quality reputation at risk?  The question is an invitation to work through multiple scenarios of responses by your suppliers, your work force, and your customers, reaching into the future.

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Hardship Accounting Of Jobs

France is implementing a new law requiring “hardship accounting,” for the purpose of giving special pension benefits to employees whose jobs impose physical, environmental and rhythm constraints beyond a given threshold in 10 categories. This is causing a dispute between employers, who balk at the detailed record keeping required, and the government, which insists that a duly voted law must be obeyed. What I find disturbing in this tug-of-war is that I hear no voice saying that the existence of hardship jobs is abnormal and that they should be eliminated. Giving special treatment to the holders of these jobs is better than nothing, but it is an immediate countermeasure, not a long-term solution.

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Google’s Rules For Effective Meetings | Eric Schmidt & Jonathan Rosenberg

In How Google Works, on pp. 163-165, executives Eric Schmidt and Jonathan Rosenberg give rules for running meetings, that are worth pondering, because they clearly know the topic. They rules are for a software organization, but it doesn’t mean they are not relevant in Manufacturing.

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Project Manager Versus Chief Engineer: What’s The Difference?

Question put to Michael Ballé in his Gemba Coach column:

Management wants us to start lean in product development, but refuses to consider the difference in roles between our current project manager and a chief engineer – how important is that?

Project Manager and Chief Engineer are job titles covering different roles in different organizations. Before commenting on whether management in the questioner’s company should switch titles, we should know how they select their project managers, how much authority the project managers have, and what they are accountable for. Some companies do an outstanding job of product development under project managers; others don’t.

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