How Truly Great Companies Maintain Excellence
If I were to pose the questions:
- What American company is celebrating their Centennial anniversary this year?
- What company is the largest exporter of their product and services globally, in terms of dollars from the US?
- What company was founded and managed by a single person during much of its initial years of Development and growth?
- What company takes approximately five weeks to produce its flagship product, much of it assembled by tightly coordinated teams?
- What company’s primary manufacturing facility can accommodate five Empire State buildings within its cavernous interior?
I am guessing that you are mentally considering and eliminating choice after choice. Apple hasn’t been around that long. General Motors would soon be out of business if their throughput was one vehicle every five weeks. General Electric does not require the same gargantuan footprint for a single assembly building.
The thriving and well-run company celebrating their birthday this year is Boeing. They are a case study in sustained growth with very few miscues over their long history. Boeing started by building canvas and wood frame biplanes in their signature red wooden hanger outside of Seattle, Washington. They have grown steadily throughout boom times and depressions, in times of peace and war, leading the way as innovators for both commercial and defense aeronautics. In a recent interview concerning their unchallenged position as a leading provider of passenger airliners Ed van Hinte, the Developer and visionary behind the 747, the world’s first jumbo jet reminisced about the nay-sayers that were loudly and publically proclaiming that it would neither fly safely nor become commercially successful. He said that he was totally confident that the prototype would fly but his wife was waiting on the runway when it landed crying tears of relief.
The CEO Dennis Muilenburg commented that the mark of truly great companies is very much about learning from problems and not being afraid to retrench and try again. One of the very rare misadventures was the introduction of the “Dreamliner”. Some of the initial production models had a potential fault in the on board battery system that resulted in a small fire on one flight and over-heating conditions on others. The fleet of new models was voluntarily grounded while the problem was analyzed and solved. The CEO was to take a future tact of introducing changes in a more measured and incremental fashion. Introducing new models composed largely of new features was too much change in too short a time. It did not allow for analysis to the level he felt was necessary at the component, subsystem, system and model level.
Much of their projected growth is in the area of off-shore sales to foreign airlines. They estimate that seventy percent of their five year backlog of orders are to Asian airlines eager to revitalize their aging fleets outstripped by travel demands to China and other Far East locations. The Dreamliner, flying safely and proudly once again will play a major part in satisfying this global demand.
Boeing takes a very strong team approach to manufacturing each airframe and completed model. Assembling a jumbo jet still requires a great deal of well thought out sequencing and logistics. Routers and travelers are essential for understanding where a given air frame stands in terms of completion at every point in the process; what rework or repairs are still pending; what requires retesting etc. This is particularly crucial given the regulatory requirements for retention, traceability and recall readiness.
All of the elements of the Quality Management System must be accurate, available and easily accessed and navigated. The ability to forensically research and discern patterns in failures including maintenance feedback is critical for addressing issues proactively and realigning processes and components to continually improve reliability.
Constant layered process audits and lessons learned feedback into FMEAs isn’t just prudent, it is crucial to the business. It is not hyperbole to describe Boeing’s culture as akin to a large living organism. The organization communicates and acts as very connected limbs moving in concert with shared consciousness and intent. This mindset has cultivated an environment that fosters creativity and innovation coupled with a prudent, measured approach to change. Great companies know how important it is to evolve and innovate but never at the expense of their core values. Boeing is the poster child for thoughtful decision making that embraces the future while always remaining mindful of their history and the role it has played in their growth and stellar reputation.