Boeing Frontiers
August 2002 
Volume 01, Issue 04 
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LEAN-ing toward System of Systems


Lee WilburAnyone who thinks that "Lean" begins and ends on the manufacturing shop floor hasn't talked to Lee Wilbur.

Wilbur, the deputy program manager for the recently won Future Combat Systems program, is a champion of Lean thinking and is working to apply those principles to FCS—a system-of-systems program that doesn't even have a Boeing shop floor.

According to Wilbur, whether you're producing a piece of hardware or integrating a large, complex system of systems like FCS, the principles of continuous process improvement, eliminating waste and optimizing value for the customer can and should be applied.

"Boeing Integrated Defense Systems is positioned now as the leader in large-system integration. As the business environment has changed, it's increasingly clear that we need to implement Lean thinking all across the programs at a system-of-systems level," said Wilbur.

Before Wilbur took the assignment with FCS, he worked to implement Lean principles in another large system integration program—Ground-based Midcourse Defense, formerly called National Missile Defense. Wilbur said many of the lessons learned from that experience on GMD will be used on FCS.

There are three key elements to developing a successful Lean enterprise at the system-of-systems level: data sharing; maintaining a baseline and developing an ability to make changes rapidly; and establishing a consistent set of metrics to measure progress.

Data sharing was identified early in the process as a key element to create efficiencies in the GMD program. "We had a tendency on GMD to rely on informal coordination, which resulted in lots of inefficiencies. We needed to be more disciplined in our communication processes," he said.

And, along with that discipline came an understanding of how information flows across and up and down the teams. A data repository that gave all the team members access to information in a common environment was one result of those efforts. Wilbur says he hopes to take that lesson learned to the next level on FCS.

Maintaining a consistent baseline is another challenge to Lean implementation at the system-of-systems level. In a typical manufacturing environment, requirements are usually defined early in the process. At the system-of-systems level, defining requirements can be difficult.

"We can't count widgets or do time studies on production lines. We have to be very creative to find ways to consistently measure things like system engineering, integration and test activities," said Wilbur.

Although much progress has been made in the software development area of missile defense, metrics are a continuing challenge.

"Identifying good metrics is tough, and then it's complicated further because the nature of system-of-systems design is to change, so the metrics will change as well."

Wilbur insists that if Boeing is to be a Lean enterprise at the system-of-systems level, it must be a "smart buyer."

"The decisions we make when we bring in our suppliers—the companies who will provide all the subsystems and components that will make up the system of systems—are the most important decisions we will make," he said. "[Suppliers] not only have to provide us with an exceptional product, but they also must be full members of a committed team.

"Bottom line—Lean enterprise at the system-of-systems level could best be defined as the whole is far greater than the sum of its parts," Wilbur said.

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