I just read an interesting Managing Automation article that poses the question, what have we learned from Boeing’s issues related to the 787 program delays and the “innovative” supply chain strategy they based the program on.
Perhaps a better question to ask would be “What did we ignore” or “What did we forget?
What Boeing set out to accomplish was not so much an untried innovation as it was an escalation in complexity applied to a model successfully used in other programs. For example, consider General Motors. That’s right, our favorite non-lean, non-customer focused, non-everything whipping boy, GM.
In the late ‘80s, GM introduced the Cadillac Allante. This limited edition luxury roadster was unique in so many ways. But what made it truly special was the production process used to build it and the complex supply chain feeding that process.
This process involved transporting the specially built Italian bodies to the final assembly point in Detroit aboard a specially configured Boeing 747 aircraft. Sound familiar?
I know, airplanes are far more complex than automobiles and I understand the composite materials used are vastly more advanced than the special alloy used in the Allante. But, surely there are lessons to be learned here.
I used to work with a guy who maintained there was a direct correlation between adherence to corporate standards and practices and physical distance between a given office and the corporate office. If you are of a certain age, you will no doubt remember Policy and Procedure Manuals and the bales of updates sent to remote offices in an effort to keep everyone current on corporate policies and practices.
My co-worker also maintained that the further you travelled from corporate the less likely you were to find a properly maintained policy manual and more likely you were to find a closet stuffed to the ceiling with unfiled updates.
The point of this story being that printing and publishing something does not make it a reality. You can’t manage a process by writing down what you envision and then hoping it comes true. Managing an extended supply chain is not exempted from this rule.
Integrating supply chains over long distances, international borders and multiple supply tiers is challenging but certainly not impossible. If GM can do it, surely the 787 team can do this as well.
I think the key is really integrating and not just sending out missives from corporate.
My question is what does true integration entail? How do you transform a chain of interdependent manufacturers taking orders and shipping product down stream into a seamless manufacturing organism? How does Boeing fix this?