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Boeing Frontiers
March 2004
Volume 02, Issue 10
Boeing Frontiers
Commercial Airplanes


The ambitious 'Move to the Lake' project in Renton unites designers and product builders under one roof


Movers and ShakersThe magnitude 6.8 earthquake that struck the Seattle area in February 2001 rattled peoples' nerves—and shook the status quo at Boeing's Renton, Wash., site. And the aftershocks are still being felt.

That earthquake gave then site leaders Carolyn Corvi and Pat Shanahan the impetus to act on an idea they'd been kicking around for some time—a vision of a streamlined production system where product designers and support employees work side-by-side with product builders.

"The earthquake pretty much destroyed our 10-85 building," said Corvi, now 737/757 programs vice president and general manager for Boeing Commercial Airplanes. "We couldn't reoccupy it, so literally over a weekend we moved 1,250 employees into new work spaces in and adjacent to the site, and had them up and running. Afterward, we realized that if we could do that, we could certainly move everyone out into the factory and make the most out of that space."

Commercial Airplanes' Renton site, located at the south end of Lake Washington, is the birthplace of the jet age, where Boeing has built the 707, 727, 737 and 757 in record numbers. In recent years, Lean manufacturing principles and a moving 737 production line have improved productivity, which in turn has cut the need for inventory and freed up floor space throughout the cavernous Final Assembly buildings. Indeed, Corvi said the Renton team has reduced the amount of square footage to support airplane production by more than 40 percent.

Corvi and Shanahan decided to convert unused factory space into office space to bring the people who really need to be near the airplanes as close as possible to the products they design, build or support, instead of being scattered around the nearly 300-acre campus.

Thus a project dubbed "Move to the Lake" was born. The initiative not only represents a more efficient use of assets such as land and inventory, but it creates a new way to work. "This isn't intended to be just a facilities move," Corvi said. "Move to the Lake is an opportunity for us to do things differently. We want to change the way we work together, to create a linkage between builders and designers, and get people to connect in ways that will help us better communicate, operate more efficiently and become even more competitive."

The first groups made the move in January. By the end of 2004, more than 2,500 employees from engineering, finance, program management and other groups will be relocated from remote buildings into the Final Assembly buildings. Others will move into soon-to-be-refurbished buildings nearby.

Before employees could begin their move, a lot of work needed to be done. Boeing recruited three partners to help: NBBJ, the architectural firm that designed Safeco Field, Seattle's heralded baseball stadium; Turner Construction, one of the largest construction firms in the United States; and Steelcase/BarclayDean, an office furniture firm that provides product solutions that promote employees' working-together relationships.

"We knew going in that we wanted to create something totally unique to Boeing," said Mark Garvin, program manager for the Move to the Lake project. "We wanted to intentionally design it to be flexible, mobile, technologically advanced and set up to foster a culture of collaboration, communication, efficiency and agility."

MOVERS & SHAKERS In 2002, Boeing and its partners conducted studies on how employees work and interact. The team then recruited 35 engineers to participate in a 12-week Move to the Lake pilot project that required them to leave their offices to make a temporary home in a work space in Final Assembly. The pilot team identified a number of key issues that helped improve the design of office work spaces in a factory environment. After overcoming some initial apprehension, the engineers found that being close to the airplanes "made it much easier for them to get together with mechanics to discuss issues affecting quality, installation and assembly," Garvin said.

The design developed by architects at NBBJ called for office areas separated from factory space by a translucent wall with windows, so employees in the offices can see the product at all times. Work spaces were designed with equality and openness in mind: no hard-walled office areas for anyone, and plenty of room for spontaneous collaboration, as the plan called for groups who need to work together to be seated near each other.

NBBJ proposed a vibrant color palette for the building interiors, a stark contrast to the drab interior paint dating back several decades. In fact, visitors as well as employees at Renton can identify what type of space they're in—conference room, arrival zone, restrooms, etc.—by the color of the walls.

Another key design element intended to enhance the employee experience is something many take for granted: windows. One of the first things Turner Construction did—with dramatic results—was install dozens of windows along the east wall of the building.

Boeing also is taking advantage of its waterfront location to create an employee dining center with walls of windows, which will showcase impressive views of Lake Washington, Mercer Island and the Seattle city skyline.

The Move to the Lake team also is using the latest technologies in workspace design to ensure employees have the tools they need to accomplish their jobs. For example, the facility design incorporates areas for collaboration, "knowledge cafés" and open meeting zones, as well as leading-edge technologies such as Voice over Internet protocol and wireless areas. This helps create a work place that embodies the qualities desired for people to bring to their work: flexibility, innovation, and a focus on customers and the end product—airplanes. "The changes we're making to typical work spaces will improve everyone's ability to do his or her job," Garvin said.

As Renton consolidates its operations, Boeing will eventually sell the older buildings it vacates. The forthcoming end of 757 production combined with the sight of wrecking crews demolishing unoccupied buildings on the site and have spurred speculation—inside the company and outside—about Boeing's future in Renton.

Corvi has heard the speculation but emphasizes the fact that the Move to the Lake project currently is Boeing's largest capital improvement project in the Puget Sound region. "With more than 900 737s in backlog and excellent sales prospects, we plan to build 737s in Renton as long as the world wants them, and we continue improving our productivity," she said. "Move to the Lake represents a significant commitment to the Renton site, its people and products."


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