Boeing Frontiers
November 2002 
Volume 01, Issue 07 
Top Stories Inside Quick Takes Site Tools
Commercial Airplanes

Ending the frustration

Engineering People Plan engages employees to help bring order, add value to the workplace


Ending the frustration The engineering work environment at Commercial Airplanes didn't get to where it is overnight.

Try 50 years.

The company had conducted 13 studies since 1952 to understand better how to match engineering employee skills and interests with work that is meaningful and challenging.

When Engineering and Product Integrity Vice President Hank Queen set out to address the concerns two years ago, he didn't need a 14th study.

"We had all the data we needed to start making changes," Queen said. "Our engineers went on strike in 2000, and we learned a lot from them. Our recent employee survey indicated continued frustration and confusion of our people throughout the organization.

"It wasn't time for another study; it was time to get to work."

Although previous studies had pointed to frustrations in the workplace, none ever brought about meaningful action. The reason is not surprising.

"This is a tough problem, probably one of the most difficult we will ever solve," Queen said. "Fundamentally, it involves changing our behavior and redefining our jobs, in management and non-management, so that we're not wasting our time doing things that don't add value."

What has emerged to respond to the challenge is the Engineering People Plan, which consists of 15 elements: utilization, organizational alignment, workforce development, internal communications, training, knowledge retention and transfer, technical excellence, virtual teaming, coaching and mentoring, fair compensation, diversity, leadership development, skill teams, process improvement and ethics (See sidebar below).

Teams support each of the elements and engage employees at all levels to listen and work together on making improvements. Teams include union staff members from the Society of Professional Engineering Employees in Aerospace who have been involved either as participants or leaders on some of the plan's elements. The Ed Wells Initiative, which promotes engineering excellence throughout Boeing, also plays a pivotal role.

Engaging employees is the most critical component to the people plan's success.

"At its core, engagement means that teams of people at the work-group level must get together to decide what is important to them and then take action," Queen said.

Managers have been asking the people who work for them three questions: What is your current job satisfaction level? What is most important to you about your job? What are the biggest issues or greatest barriers to improving your organization?

Managers are accountable not only for business performance of their organizations but also for how well they listen and work with their teams to implement improvements and meet employees' needs. And they are to report back to Queen semi-annually with results on the job satisfaction question.


One of the foundational People Plan elements is Utilization, which the company defines as increased productivity and job satisfaction.

An organization accomplishes utilization by having the right people doing the right work with the right processes and tools at the right time.

Project manager Ken Kirwan said people have indicated through surveys that they want meaningful and challenging work, opportunities for advancement and achievement, and recognition and acknowledgement for a job well done.

"Employees have told us that the company doesn't use its technical talent efficiently, that they don't feel well-utilized and often are performing tasks that don't take advantage of their education or experience," Kirwan said.

He said there are several things managers can do to improve employee utilization: "They can improve the balance between engineering and technical employees. They can help the group improve quality of output so time is not spent in rework. And they can provide growth opportunities so employees continue to learn and develop new skills."

Another important element of utilization is to involve employees in identifying issues and barriers that get in the way of improving their performance.

Ending the frustration"By asking employees in the work group what their biggest issues are, and by engaging them in finding the solutions together, the team can make significant gains in both productivity and job satsisfaction," Kirwan said. "They are tightly linked together."

To this end, the organization has asked every manager to develop his or her own people plan based on feedback from the three questions (What is your current job satisfaction level? What is most important to you about your job? What are the biggest issues or greatest barriers to improving your organization?).

"Our strategy for the future includes achieving competitive advantage by leveraging the best talent, technology, processes and tools," Kirwan said. "In support of this goal, we're challenging ourselves to improve our productivity by 100 percent. It's definitely doable, with the commitment, engagement and support of the whole team."

Organizational alignment

Jill Heydron said that when people hear the words Organizational Alignment, they immediately begin thinking there's an effort under way to move people around on an organizational chart.

"It's the No. 1 question and misunderstanding I receive from folks even today," said Heydron, project leader. "We should be calling this Organizational Enlightenment. It's what we're really doing: establishing and clarifying the organizational culture to bring a clearer understanding for how the work groups are aligned."

Employees have complained about having too many managers and receiving multiple work statements from different work groups. Reporting relationships and "who does what" have not been clear.

A matrix of operating principles and boundary tables brings order to the organization. The principles define distinct areas of responsibility for skill and process leaders, and business unit leaders. Boundary tables reach a lower level of definition, dealing with cross-model work statements, budgets, retentions, merits, career plans and so on.

"Managers in some cases are just now reviewing the operating principles and boundary tables with their work groups and in some cases actually are beginning to use them," Heydron said. "Some of what they're learning is, 'OK, so if I'm in a business unit and have a work statement that requires more people than I have to perform that work, I look to my skill and process leader for help, because it isn't in my role to move or acquire people for that work.'"

The last step of the project currently under way is creating Responsibility, Accountability and Authority documents to help groups determine what they're responsible for and whether they have authority and accountability for that responsibility.

"Most of the groups that we have today don't even have an RAA, so that has contributed to the confusion," Heydron said. "There aren't group-level responsibilities so people can see how they fit in the organization, and they don't exist at the higher levels, either. RAA helps everyone find themselves in the organization and understand how they can contribute."

Heydron estimates that the team is halfway through the project, with engagement on RAAs the biggest piece of the puzzle.

"The first step is to explain the matrix so people can begin to understand the principles and tables and how they apply to them," she said.

The response so far has been encouraging.

"We're hearing more and more that this is one of the better pieces of documentation yet developed on understanding how the organization works," Heydron said. "We've got a ways to go, but we're definitely moving in the right direction."

Workforce development

Another issue that emerged from last year's employee survey was job security, and the Workplace Development team began exploring a solution.

Engineering groups"It occurred to us that one of the key things that could be done would be to prepare employees for future roles that they would play in the company," said Dean Tudor, SPEEA employee, co-director at the Ed Wells Initiative and team co-leader with Mike Denton, vice president of Engineering for Airplane Programs and Commercial Aviation Services. "This was something we could do that was crucial to stabilizing employment."

He said the approach has been to help paint a picture of what the future skills are going to be and to ensure that employees have the training and education to meet those needs.

As a result of this new direction, workforce development took on a different complexion, with a focus on the business role within Engineering.

"We think our major early deliverable will be a picture of the future," Tudor said. "We've asked skill leaders and process leaders about the direction of the organization, what skills they think they will need three to five years from now and the plans for getting there."

The objective is to make the information available to everyone as soon as possible.

"Employees need to know what direction their organization is going so they can make choices about their development," Tudor said. "The organizations that provide training need the information so they know what to focus on.

"This is an exciting time for us, because to my knowledge there has never been such a future-oriented approach," Tudor said.

Virtual teaming

As Commercial Airplanes employees continue to address the future in building airplanes, there is a constant effort to reduce development costs.

That's where Virtual Teaming comes in.

Frank Statkus, who leads the effort, said two aspects are instrumental in shaving costs — the common use of tools and processes, and a collaborative database.

"No matter what part of the development phase employees are working, from conceptual design through support, common tools and processes will reduce the existence of bad data or the necessity of creating new data, and a collaborative database will accomplish the work faster," Statkus said.

As Boeing partners with companies around the world to develop new products such as the Sonic Cruiser, a collaborative database is critical.

"The whole team will not only work on the same product, they also will work on it in a common way," Statkus said. "Someone on the outside will not be able to tell who is doing what part of the work, because the whole team, no matter where they are in the world, will be working to the same requirements with the same processes and common tool sets."

Statkus, who was in charge of the Joint Strike Fighter effort for Boeing, said it's not a brand-new approach for the company.

"We know from experience that there's huge value in doing it this way — to product integrity and certainly to the cost of the overall product," he said.

In the past, design data could come in different forms and reside in separate databases, requiring translation of data that often provided inaccurate and very expensive results.

For example, outside mold lines of an airplane might be in one database and the rest of the design — locations of stringers, spars and ribs — in a different database. During translation, errors would accumulate in the database itself. Manipulation of the data to make it work would lead to inaccuracy and create downstream rework, delays, additional tooling and skyrocketing costs.

The technology is being transferred to Commercial Airplanes' Advanced Development program, which is drawing employees from Commercial Airplanes, Phantom Works and Integrated Defense Systems.

"The Sonic Cruiser is a first application for the technology, but eventually it will become an enterprise-wide tool," Statkus said. "That way we only have to do this once across the enterprise."

"These are real exciting times," he added. "These are the kind of activities in this company that are going to make our future extremely competitive."


Engineering a better organization

Boeing is gearing 11 other elements of the People Plan to making improvements in the Engineering organization:

TECHNICAL EXCELLENCE: Promotes continuous development, advancement and management of technical knowledge in design, production and support of commercial airplanes.
ETHICS: Ensures clear understanding of and compliance with the company's ethical requirements.
INTERNAL COMMUNICATION: Develops communication processes and practices that provide the free flow of information in all directions throughout the organization.
TRAINING: Promotes the need for specific training, keeping people educated in engineering processes as well as state-of-the-art technical and business practices.
KNOWLEDGE RETENTION AND TRANSFER: Finds and shares better ways of retaining and transferring knowledge about products and processes. As people grow and move on, knowledge and information need to be readily available for others.
COACHING AND MENTORING: Teaches people how to coach and mentor and provides the tools to do it well. Everyone in the organization is a potential coach or mentor to someone else.
COMPENSATION: Analyzes the market as well as internal issues such as pay parity, then regularly communicates the facts and takes appropriate actions.
DIVERSITY: Fosters an inclusive and participatory workplace that enables people to be engaged and fully contribute to work at all levels and across the enterprise.
LEADERSHIP DEVELOPMENT: Promotes development of future leaders, and continuing development for current leaders, to foster successful leadership of a diverse team.
SKILL TEAMS: Improves how skill teams work, including the development of thorough and consistent processes to allow the effective movement of people to projects throughout the company.
PROCESS IMPROVEMENT: Documents and continuously improves processes, including the modification of business systems to fully capture the benefits from process improvements.

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