Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Dreamliner woes

I have been following the story of Boeing's Dreamliner with considerable interest, in part because I used to do consulting work within the aerospace sector, in part because it has clearly become a commercial and management nightmare.

In the most recent development, Boeing has apparently instructed the Italian company Alenia Aeronautica to stop making fuselage components after quality control problems were discovered. For those who are interested in reading back into the saga, Ben Sandiland's has been following it on his Plane Talking blog.

The slowly unravelling story is interesting because it combines so many elements. The Dreamliner is a large, complex project with plenty of scope for things to go wrong. However, Boeing has plenty of experience with this type of project.

I have a strong impression, I may be wrong, that Boeing's difficulties are due in part to the way the company has pushed the technical envelope to try to deliver specific benefits, more to the way in which marketing considerations in general have driven project dynamics.

The relationships between marketing people and engineering and production teams has always been complicated. Let the technical people have their heads and you may get an over-specified product that doesn't meet customer need. Let the marketing people have their way and you end with promises that cannot be met.

The problem for Boeing now is that the project has become a potential company breaker. I suspect that I am not alone in wondering whether the plane will ever enter commercial production.        

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