December 2005/January 2006 
Volume 04, Issue 8 
Special Feature

A role on the team

Engineers and technicians are using workplace coaches to save time and money while increasing the quality of products and services


A role on the teamThey might not be mistaken for Vince Lombardi, Mike Ditka or Tom Landry. But Boeing's workplace coaches and their customers rely on teamwork and partnerships similar to what made those famous U.S. football coaches successful.

In Learning, Training and Development (LTD) engineering and operations groups, workplace coaches literally work alongside their internal customers to gain a clear understanding of their needs and challenges. The coaches are able to provide real-time support when employees return to the job after training and apply what they've learned, said LTD Vice President Bonnie Stoufer.

"Since the tools and processes that employees work with are often complicated, detailed and fluid, having coaches available on the job often prevents sending an employee back to a classroom or spending time looking for answers," she said. "Also, coaches are able to feed information back to classroom instructors to let them know what they can do to improve training."

"Coaching has paid off in so many ways," said Todd Drenkhahn, workplace coach and team leader on the St. Louis Flight Ramp. "We've seen a reduction in cost and increased efficiency, not to mention a support system that couldn't be duplicated."

In football, many successful coaches were former players and had a solid knowledge of the game from different perspectives. In Integrated Defense Systems and Commercial Airplanes, many current workplace coaches were previously part of the work team on the shop floor. This relationship has proved beneficial since workplace coaches know the technical specialists and engineers and understand the jobs they perform.

"In many cases, they are the best ones to offer improvements," said Earl Schuessler, union plant chairman, IAM district 837, IDS–St. Louis. "This partnership produces a win-win situation."
A workplace coach can serve as a liaison, consultant or instructor. Dan Stroot, assembly team leader at the St. Louis IDS plant, described coaches as playing a support role for technical and engineering specialists.

Curt Graf (right), a Learning, Training and Development workplace coaching instructor, works alongside James VanderbeckConsider a recent issue with a part for the F-15E Strike Eagle at the Boeing facility in St. Louis. A variance appeared in a divergent rocket motor (powering the aircraft's ejection seat) from a supplier. While the new part looked similar, it did not exist in the aircraft's work instructions and the technicians could not install it. Technical specialists on the shop floor contacted Drenkhahn, who consulted with the shop employee and made a quick decision that Engineering needed to intervene. The result: Engineering determined, in two days, that the variation was an acceptable substitute. This saved time and money and freed up time for the technician to work on other assembly.

At Commercial Airplanes, workplace coaches are currently working with engineers on the 787 program providing end-user support, identifying gaps that occur and deciding how best to address those issues, said John Fisher, LTD workplace coaching manager. Workplace coaches are also teaming with engineers on the P-8A Multi-mission Maritime Aircraft program, helping those designing the aircraft, which is based on the 737 airframe.

Along with topics such as composite materials, much of the coaching focuses on working with engineering software programs such as CATIA, DELMIA and ENOVIA—the tools engineers use.

According to Jon Schneider, director of LTD Engineering, the importance of workplace coaching has grown with the need for new training to keep pace with technology. The 787 program requires cutting-edge training to support the state-of-the-art commercial airliner, so it's not surprising that workplace coaching plays a prominent role in that project, Schneider added.

"Our presence as coaches allows our engineers to engineer instead of spending time on non-value-added tasks," Fisher said.

Mark Van Horne, 787 Tooling Integration, said he was impressed not only with a recent surfacing class, but also the entire suite of classes designed for 787 Tooling and the coaches who made it happen. "This is a textbook example of people working together to achieve outstanding results," he said.

Likewise, IDS workplace coaches recognize the benefits they provide and the value of the partnership in providing solutions in the workplace. "Shop employees know they can come to any of us if they have a problem or idea," Stroot said. "All of our instructors/coaches came out of the shop, and many have a military background. So we are all perceived as experts in what we do." Stroot noted that in many cases, coaches can do the jobs they're helping employees tackle—but in all cases coaches "respect the shop employees, who know their product better than anyone."

The future of coaching

Workplace coaching and training has to move fast to keep pace with technology and a widely-dispersed workforce. Learning, Training and Development, along with the business units, are actively looking for ways to provide performance support to employees, which will enhance workplace coaching and help provide even more effective solutions than coaching alone.

In parts of IDS, a program known as Manufacturing Execution System (MES) is already being deployed. MES allows technicians to view everything they need to do their jobs, including work instructions and three-dimensional views of specific parts of an aircraft. Part views can be rotated in any direction giving the employee an unprecedented look at a structure.

Employees who have been trained on MES can rely on workplace coaches to help them use it at their job stations. MES terminals are conveniently located at assembly stations.

Similarly, for the 787 program—a global partnership with a widely dispersed work force—a planned virtual Workplace Coaching System will allow coaches to be everywhere employees are located, maximizing limited resources.

The future Workplace Coaching System "could ultimately become the hub of training and support beyond the classroom," said John Fisher, workplace coaching manager for the LTD organization. "It will provide a continuous learning environment for engineers around the clock and enable various Boeing programs to share ideas and best practices seamlessly across the system in real-time."

—Robert Sterling


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