Volume 04, Issue 6
Formula for success
What makes the Super Hornet team fly? Hard work—and play. Here's a look at the F/A-18 culture.
BY KATHLEEN COOK
It takes thousands of people to design, build and deliver the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet.
It takes a lot more to build and maintain the team that has made the Super Hornet program the benchmark of aircraft manufacturing.
It starts with a leadership team that embraces innovation in working with people, as well as working with machines, according to Chris Chadwick, vice president for F/A-18 Programs for Boeing. He believes that innovative spirit has created a true "team first" atmosphere in the F/A-18 program. As proof, he is quick to point out that this is not "his" team; the team works because "we have a Working Together mindset. By working as a fully integrated team, everyone has more success than by doing anything alone."
That team includes everyone involved with the F/A-18—design engineers, business specialists, assembly workers, suppliers and a multitude of others. This diversity of resources is a strength Chadwick thinks too many businesses overlook.
"By working hand in hand, realizing the need for help from each other and asking for that help, as well as using independent assessments to gauge our progress, we can remain aggressive but humble in our reach for success," he explained.
The program has four Working Together principles and practices:
This philosophy is more than words, Chadwick emphasized. Working within this framework the team can "reach outside our own limitations and knowledge" to accomplish even the most difficult of goals, he said.
Perhaps the most novel of the ideas this team has spawned is that "asking for help is a strength," Chadwick said. "It's a testament to the power of Boeing that we have so many resources available to us, and we can get to where we need to be faster by learning from others' experience." Indeed, the team advocates learning from others' experiences, good or bad, so the team learns in a proactive way.
"The F/A-18 team is a living, breathing, learning organization that learns from mistakes and successes," Chadwick said.
Principles with results
The belief in working together and asking for help together has yielded tangible results, Chadwick said, such as the success of the F/A-18E/F Integrated Readiness Support Teaming. FIRST uses the best practices and streamlined processes of commercial enterprises such as Boeing, partnering them with the experience of the F/A-18 Program Office, Naval Inventory Control Point and the proven technical expertise of the U.S. Navy's aviation depots. The result is better and faster delivery of spare parts to the fleet—all made possible by working together and maintaining good communication among many groups.
One example of how Working Together has created value is the F/A-18 roadmap, which is a seven-increment upgrade plan developed by the Navy. Working with the Navy and the New Product Development group at Boeing—and using the first F/A-18F aircraft as a test bed—the team has been able to demonstrate several potential new capabilities for the aircraft.
"This method allows us to demonstrate capabilities rapidly, which in turn allows us to incorporate those capabilities much sooner," said Kory Mathews, director for F/A-18 Integration. "We can show our customer efficient, compelling evidence to convince them of the value of these ideas, rather than just showing them a simulation. This is a real capability on a real aircraft."
By working together as a team, the F/A-18 program has already received funding for the first two increments of the upgrade plan, and three more increments have been included in the budgeting process beginning in fiscal year 2007.
Fun is good business
But business success is only part of the formula for this team. It isn't enough to have a happy customer if the team members aren't satisfied as well. So the F/A-18 team takes plenty of opportunities to have fun.
This past summer, team members marched in an annual St. Louis Fourth of July parade. Parade organizers needed help to "corral" a large Blue Angels F/A-18 balloon in the parade. The team jumped at the chance, and Stephanie Fagas, a manager in financial controls, recruited the necessary people. The Blue Angels is the U.S. Navy's flight demonstration team and flies the F/A-18.
The parade team, including spouses and children, met before the parade to get marching and line-holding assignments. "Most of the people didn't know each other," Fagas said. "It was an opportunity to connect, to show the pride we have in being part of the F/A-18 and Boeing, and for the people watching the parade, to put a human face to Boeing."
That human connection brought unexpected results, Fagas said, building personal relationships among the parade walkers. It also generated positive reaction from Boeing employees watching the parade.
Building on this and similar successes, the F/A-18 team is working closely with Boeing Community Relations to reach out and provide community growth. The team currently is planning a community project to enhance a recreational area in metropolitan St. Louis.
"Working together on a project like this, we're first and foremost able to have a lasting impact on the local community," said Mathews, who is heading the effort. "What you soon realize, however, is that you enhance team spirit and have a lot of fun along the way." This project will culminate in a family celebration day this spring.
'This is their business'
Such participation is a key to the program's success, said Shelley Lavender, director, Tactical Aircraft Integrated Product Team and chief engineer, F/A-18. The F/A-18 program has worked to go a step beyond simple employee involvement, to employee engagement.
"You want team members to realize and truly believe this is their business, too," she said. "We take a whole system view, so one team can celebrate the success of others."
From senior managers through individuals new to the organization or to Boeing, the F/A-18 team works to make sure everyone is engaged. Something as simple as asking someone's opinion can make a world of difference, Lavender said. "When you ask if they have ideas, they will give you great ideas," she said, "and they're pleased you asked. It makes a difference."
Employee engagement permeates every aspect of the F/A-18 team, from getting ideas for improving production from members of High Performance Work Organizations on the shop floor to "town hall" meetings with team leaders. For this team, success is a personal thing, and learning and growing are vital. From Chadwick on down, individuals are supported in achieving personal and professional goals and are encouraged to be innovative.
Since joining Boeing in November, Lauren Carpunky of the F/A-18E/F Active Electronically Scanned Array program has worked with a diverse group of people on several projects and teams. "The personalities, talents, and can-do attitude of my teammates make the working environment fun and enjoyable," she said.
That outlook seems to be shared by many F/A-18 teammates. The F/A-18 group responded positively to the Employee Survey questions, with responses on 22 questions being at least 72 percent positive. This translates to high levels of employee engagement. The most positive questions included "My manager considers my ideas and opinions," "People cooperate to get the job done," and "I am encouraged to come up with better ways to do my job."
The team's long-term goal is to keep the F/A-18 production line open until at least 2016, but Chadwick wants the team to think beyond that.
"We need to focus on the needs of the warfighters, to think about warfighting solutions far into the future," he said, "and to continually challenge ourselves to look to the future, so we can be positioned for growth." By working together under the umbrella of their principles and practices, this team has developed a culture of success that makes it a program to emulate, within Boeing and without.
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