Boeing Frontiers
July 2003
Volume 02, Issue 03
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Rick StephensThe contract was substantial—$508 million; the project monumental—install explosive detection systems at the United States' 429 commercial airports and train more than 25,000 baggage screeners; and the deadline unimaginable—complete it by Dec. 31, 2002, less than six months.

The project required a massive effort by Boeing and its subcontractors. Starting with a core of 100 people, the Boeing team grew to more than 30,000, from executives to electricians, by December. The final tally on airports was 443 from Alaska to Saipan.

"The explosives detection system (EDS) team worked longer and worked harder than any team I have ever been associated with, but this team also had an intense sense of pride, ownership and accomplishment," said Rick Stephens, vice president of Homeland Security and Services. "We assembled an outstanding leadership team that was second to none, and that included our customer, the Transportation Security Administration, from Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta and Admiral James Loy (Under Secretary for Transportation Security) down."

The program was heavily back-loaded. At one point during Christmas week, Boeing had 100 tractor-trailers on the road carrying 200 large EDS machines to their destinations. Of the more than 25,000 baggage screeners trained, Boeing trained 20,000 of them in December alone.

Boeing delivered the project on time, earning praise from the Transportation Security Administration for the dedication and leadership of its people. How did so many accomplish so much in so little time?

"We had the commitment from company leadership that this was a priority, and senior leadership knew what was going on," Stephens said. "I wrote a fortnightly activity report for the chairman and his direct reports."

But that was only part of the equation. Stephens said that leading a project the magnitude of the EDS program requires four distinct elements:

1. A common understanding of the objective and agreement by everyone on the team that all energy focuses on what the objective is

2. A true partnership with the external customer, and partners and suppliers, with clear, open, honest and frequent communication

3. A real and objective understanding of the risks to achieving success and plans to mitigate those risks, as well as a process to determine progress in mitigating those risks

4. A well-defined process for understanding what is going on

"We set up the team in a hierarchical approach and assigned accountability," Stephens said. "That structure flowed down to the individual airports and we made sure we had the right capabilities for each one. I believe in top-down planning and bottom-up reporting. That's where you find out what is really going on."

Stephens added: "We want the people doing the work to report what is going on. You need that to eliminate the subjectivity. People tend to flavor things and you need to get the flavor out."

—Mark E. Nelson


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