The Root Cause

Rethink Your Approach To Solving Stubborn Enterprise-Wide Problems

Boeing Once, Boeing Twice . . . . .

So, what’s the essential difference between running Boeing like a business rather than an engineering firm? Let’s explore, shall we?

The everyday expression “running a business” refers to a distinct executive function called GOVERNANCE; the structure of customs, processes, practices, policies, and rules that affect the way people direct, administer, and manage a corporation.

The challenge governance poses to any novice and seasoned executive alike is the intricately interdependent nature of a system’s countless component parts, among each other and within the environment in which they operate.

The function of governance is performed by a GOVERNOR, which was described by the physicist James Clerk Maxwell as      

  “A part of a machine by means of which the velocity of the machine is kept nearly uniform, notwithstanding variations in the driving power or the resistance.”

Any business executive in the role of a governor has to strike a BALANCE between velocity—the pace, workload, capability, capacity of the machine—and variations in the driving power or the resistance.

Instead of striking a balance, Harry Stonecipher (see image above) demanded an increase in velocity. It appears that one of the preferred methods he choose to speed-up production, to reduce manufacture time, was to undermine and eliminate some well established engineering safety and quality control measures. He even hired lobbyists to adjust Federal regulations to accomplish his desire.

As we know from our everyday lives, many among us belittle the need for safety and quality control measures. They ask themselves if it really matters that they, for example, wear a seatbelt; put on a crash helmet; not drive when tired or under the influence of drugs or alcohol . . . . . . ?
How many times has anyone violated these safety measures and lived to fight another day? I once read a statistic on maritime safety that found there are some 600 near-misses for every accident. How do you like those odds?

The only time at which safety and quality control measures REALLY matter is in that SPLIT SECOND when any of your body parts are smashed against the inside of your car, bounced against the roadway, or when you injure/kill someone.

For Boeing it was that SPLIT SECOND when the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS) functioned not according to expectation; when the door plug blew out mid-flight; when the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) uncovered “non-compliance issues in Boeing’s manufacturing process control, parts handling and storage, and product control.”

Safety and quality control measures MATTER because in critical situations things can go wrong very fast, very badly, with unforeseeable dire consequences.

Didn’t the current mess in which Boeing finds itself today started as a “strategy” to compete with Airbus?
I’m reminded of some lines from Sun Tzu’s The Art of War in which he said:

Of old the skilled first made themselves invincible to await
the enemy’s vincibility.
Invincibility lies in oneself.
Vincibility lies in the enemy.
Thus the skilled can make themselves invincible.
They cannot cause the enemy’s vincibility.
Thus it is said, “Victory can be known. It cannot be made.”

You may recall Walt Kelly’s cartoon figure Pogo, the central character of a long-running daily American comic strip, who came to the painful realization: “We have met the enemy and he is us!

I bet, Boeing executives are becoming increasingly nostalgic, longing for the days when the business was still run as an engineering firm; a time when people said with patriotic pride in their voices
If it’s not Boeing, I’m not going”.

What lesson do you take away from Boeing? You think it ain’t gonna happen to you; you are different?
Mind you, people are NOT the problem; people are set-up to fail by those responsible for business governance, which happens to be a UNIQUE EXECUTIVE job because no one has more authority to change the system.

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