Does Boeing’s Lean Manufacturing Drive need some SMS balancing

Boeing lean v. SMS cover
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Boeing v. Airbus competition drove both to strive for lower costs

Lean Manufacturing seeks to optimize production

SMS strives to reduce Safety Risks

Boeing leadership adequately balance these two disciplines?


The woes of Boeing’s design and manufacturing have been well publicized. The Seattle, now Chicago, based manufacturer has been locked in a massive competitive battle with Airbus. To win that battle America’s exporter engaged in conscious management efforts to reduce costs. It used it virtual “monopsony” to lower its suppliers’ prices. As evidenced by the below Boeing articles, it preached the lean discipline to create the most efficient manufacturing processes.


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Across the enterprise Boeing is attacking waste and streamlining process. The goal? Cost competitiveness

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There is no proof that the Five S’s had impact on the design, proof or production of the Boeing products; however, the collective judgment of the regulator and several task forces was that there were significant failures in these safety control functions.

boeing lean past and present


Lean manufacturing principles DO NOT drive parameters to below acceptable safety levels. The SMS process has a quantitative approach to making changes. The consequences of an SMS decision may increase costs, but those additions are set due to the safety benefits.  It is plausible that collective impact of all of the decisions might have led to a diminution of margin for risks.

That said, read the first email by the newly appointed CEO and President and consider the degree to which the new Boeing leader does or does not CLEARLY prioritize safety. Also, after that paper read the Boeing 5s Problem article. It suggests some tactics for improvement.

B737 Max 8 production line




President & CEO David Calhoun’s email to employees

January 13, 2020 in Our People

The following email was sent to all Boeing employees on Monday, Jan. 13.

Boeing CEO and President Calhoun


My promise to you

Let’s work together to change our company for the better.


It’s an honor to join this team and to help shape Boeing’s future with you.

This company has a tremendous legacy of aerospace achievement, thanks to your efforts and the contributions of generations before you. I honor that legacy, and I appreciate your tireless commitment. I also recognize the learnings – many of them painful – from the experiences of the last 18 months that you are bringing to the way we do business.

This is a crucial time for Boeing. We have work to do to uphold our values and to build on our strengths. I see greatness in this company, but I also see opportunities to be better. Much better. That includes engaging one another and our stakeholders with greater transparency, holding ourselves accountable to the highest standards of safety and quality, and incorporating outside-in perspective on what we do and how we do it.

In my first few days and weeks as president and CEO, I will be listening closely to you, our customers, our partners, and our regulators to ensure we understand the expectations of our stakeholders and are on a path to meeting them. In doing so, we’ll become stronger as a company and as an industry.

To that end, I’ll count on your support on these initial priorities for 2020:

  • Return the 737 MAX to service safely: This must be our primary focus. This includes following the lead of our regulators and working with them to ensure they’re satisfied completely with the airplane and our work, so that we can continue to meet our customer commitments. We’ll get it done, and we’ll get it done right.
  • Rebuild trust: Many of our stakeholders are rightly disappointed in us, and it’s our job to repair these vital relationships. We’ll do so through a recommitment to transparency and by meeting and exceeding their expectations. We will listen, seek feedback, and respond — appropriately, urgently and respectfully.
  • Focus on our values: Every day we will commit to our shared values while further strengthening our culture. Your voice is important in this. We will foster an inclusive environment that embraces oversight and accountability and puts safety, quality and integrity above all else.
  • Operate with excellence: Operational Excellence is how we work together to deliver safe products and services to our customers, while continuously improving our quality metrics. This requires a focused approach and we will all need to find any opportunities for simplification to ensure we are dedicated to what matters most. All of us are accountable for it.
  • Maintain production health: We’ll keep taking steps to maintain our supply chain and workforce expertise so we’re ready to restart production and increase rate safely, smartly and with the highest standards of quality.
  • Invest in our future: Our markets are growing, customer demand is evolving, the competition is increasing and technology is advancing at a pace we’ve never seen before. Boeing must keep innovating to succeed. We’ll continue to invest in our global workforce and new processes and technologies that will help us become safer and more efficient as we define the future of aerospace. This work includes preparing for the first CST-100 Starliner crewed mission, first flights of the 777X and 737 MAX 10, further growth of our Global Services business and finalization of our Embraer partnership.

This is our path forward, and I’m excited to be part of it with you. My sleeves are rolled up. I know yours are, too.DaveBoeing engineer






Boeing’s 5S Problem

Process standardization offers a solution


APRIL 25, 2019

Morgan Sliff


Boeing has been rife with issues lately. While the recent Ethiopian Airlines crash has dominated headlines and elicited an FBI investigation into the company, another federal body has stated it will be keeping a closer eye on Boeing’s safety shortfalls.

Boeing is now in hot water with the U.S. Air Force after tools, litter, and other work materials were found in newly delivered KC-46’s. High-ranking Air Force official Will Roper shared a statement to lawmakers, saying “debris translates into a safety issue.” Tankers were grounded for a week due to safety concerns, citing foreign object debris (FOB), which can lead to wear and damage over time.

One would imagine that the world’s leading aerospace company, responsible for designing and manufacturing more than 10,000 of today’s commercial airliners, would have rigorous quality control protocols in place. Not surprising, recent revelations have presented grave concerns about Boeing’s internal management and highlight the need to keep workplace standards in the spotlight.

A closer look at Boeing’s recent shortcomings have revealed a larger problem. “It’s clear that Boeing has insufficient process controls in place,” says Michael DiLeo, president of the [sic] . “While Boeing has a very strong safety record, incidents like this show the importance of a continuous improvement methodology being in place. If tools are being left on aircraft and no one notices, this is a sign that there is a breakdown of standards within the manufacturing process.”

So where does the nation’s largest manufacturing exporter begin to resolve its endemic process standardization issues?

The answer to this question requires first understanding that problems such as these are not common with proper protocol.

The Harvard Business Review has written extensively on what can be gleaned from Japan’s cultural practice of attention to detail, something that could prove beneficial to Boeing in light of its current position. Roper said it best in his statement to the press: “It’s simply following processes that Boeing has on the books, and having a culture all the way down to the mechanic level that embraces them.”

Japanese auto manufacturer Toyota has mastered this concept in what has been dubbed the Toyota Production System (TPS), by focusing on what takes place at the micro-level. Toyota’s success is due largely in part to TPS, or what in the Western world is refers to as the lean manufacturing model and the 5S system.

Boeing lean S5


Lean manufacturing is a workplace methodology that optimizes productivity and ensures an effective operational flow. The five S’s of lean manufacturing are the core tenets upon which the concept was founded and center around the goal of waste reduction.

Air Force officials will be keeping a close eye on Boeing’s management as they struggle to regain the company’s place as a trusted partner. Implementation of the 5S model would have undoubtedly presented many opportunities to spot the debris and tools left behind in the KC-46s prior to delivery.

In a sense, 5S prevents the spread of issues by cutting them off at the root. The five S’s are as follows:

Sort (seiri)
Taking stock of all items present in the workplace and identifying extraneous ones. Human beings are imperfect creatures prone to error. Taking this step ensures a clear work environment that ultimately eliminates distractions that lead to errors, and reduces time spent looking for the items necessary to do one’s work.

Set in order (seiton)
Having the necessary tools neatly organized allows for greater ease of use. Optimizing the workflow by keeping tools nearby and in an order that is logical for the task at hand lends itself to a more functional space—think of a dentist’s tray. When performing tasks that require precision, order is a critical element to flawless execution.

Shine (seiso)
Cleaning the workspace on a regular basis. This step promotes safety for employees by making it easy to spot when something is out of order, preventing mistakes and deterioration of surroundings. Giving employees a sense of ownership and pride in their workspace leads to a cultural shift that is transferrable to the actual work itself.

Standardize (seiketsu)
Systematizing the workplace standardization process is crucial to executing the aforementioned processes. It ensures the steps are executed consistently across all levels, and provides a basis for replication—rinse, and repeat.

Sustain (shitsuke)
The final tenet of lean manufacturing, requires intention, from managers to their employees, everyone participating and investing in maintaining the standardization process by making it a way of life in the workplace. Self-discipline and regular evaluation of whether standards are being met, or must be revised to evolve with growth, are key in this step.

“FOD is really about every person,” says Roper. “Everyone in the workforce, following those procedures and bringing a culture of discipline for safety.” Boeing would do well to implement workplace standards around the 5S model, ensuring that the progress made following such a shift is sustained in the long term—something the Air Force has stated it will keep under careful observation for months to come.

b737 max 8 cockpit



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