Volume 03, Issue 4
Partners for progress
Weight Engineering group leaders develop cutting-edge techniques for developing skilled engineering leaders
Jeff Griffiths and Brindu Giridharadas didn’t set out to make their workgroup a model of employee utilization, job satisfaction or group morale. But in 1989, at the dawn of the 777 program, the Commercial Airplanes Weight Engineering group faced a challenge that would lead them, incrementally, to transform their group and demonstrate the benefits of partnering.
“We had just hired a large number of engineers out of school,” recalled Griffiths. “But we hadn’t figured out how to utilize all that talent.”
To tackle the problem, Griffiths named Giridharadas lead engineer, a role without a generally agreed-on definition.
Over the next several weeks, Griffiths and Giridharadas fine-tuned the criteria for evaluating the lead’s performance. “The main thing Jeff told me, which came as a great relief, was, ‘You will be measured on getting work done—not on doing it yourself,’” Giridharadas said.
At that time, lead engineers tended to do most of the tough work themselves, Griffiths said, so “they didn’t have time for mentoring less experienced group members about the group’s objectives, processes, tools, etc.”
Griffiths and Giridharadas agreed that the lead should concentrate on developing less-experienced team members more quickly, assigning these members more challenging work, increasing responsibilities faster, and increasing utilization of skills and employees. The agreement gave Giridharadas license to take time to develop individual team member participation and overall group performance.
The pair’s efforts soon showed results beyond their expectations. Within months of joining the group, several engineers were making technical presentations to executive management, a task usually reserved for more senior members. Senior members had time to share knowledge and serve as mentors. Job satisfaction went up dramatically.
“People who had left the group wanted to come back,” Giridharadas said, laughing. “We started to have negative attrition.”
Eventually the group’s turnaround was noticed. “We had been designing a tool to help us estimate the weight of airplane thrust reversers,” Griffiths recalled. “It was a big challenge. The groundwork we laid in the early ’90s allowed us to develop a nine-month plan to complete the project. Upper management recognized the group’s breakthrough approach with cash awards.”
Surveys showed that the group bonded exceptionally well as a team. Group members developed leadership qualities quickly, and many went on to highly responsible positions in other groups.
Over the years, Giridharadas developed a number of techniques for making the best use of the group’s resources and skills, including
The Ed Wells Initiative, a joint program of the Society of Professional Engineering Employees in Aerospace and Boeing, makes these tools available on the Boeing Web at http://edwells.web.boeing.com/EU/utilizationhome.html
Partnering between manager and lead is key to successful implementation, Griffiths and Giridharadas said. It takes time and commitment on the part of both.
“We didn’t just sit down one day and the light went on and it all just came to us,” Griffiths said. “It evolved over several years, with Brindu doing a lot of research on his own and incorporating information from case studies.” Additional feedback came from lead training courses Giridharadas developed and taught.
“The concept of a partnership between management and technical leaders is even more important today than it was 15 years ago,” Griffiths said. “The work environment has become more complex and demanding as continual productivity improvement has become key to the company’s competitiveness.”
Griffiths employs the basic partnering concept in the Weight Engineering organization today. The concept is being expanded to the overall organization structure as it develops a partnering arrangement between the management team and a Weight Engineering Tech Council, made up of all the organization’s technical leaders.
Other areas within BCA Engineering also have adopted the partnering concepts. Hundreds who attended Giridhardas’ courses during the last decade have brought the ideas back to their own groups.
“Partnering is not easy,” Griffiths said, “and doesn’t work for everyone, but the benefits are significant to those who are truly committed to making a partnership work.”
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