Boeing’s Mistakes Highlight an Industry-Wide Problem

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We all the know about Boeing, right? They’re the company that sent out a fleet of aircraft that maybe should have had more testing. Well, I’m starting to think this isn’t just a Boeing problem. It’s an industry-wide problem.

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Almost every day, I listen to The Daily by The New York Times. Recently, the podcast aired an episode titled The Whistle-Blowers at BoeingOpens in a new tab., and it reminded me a lot of my experience at GE Transportation.

To summarize, Boeing launched the 787 Dreamliner which was supposed to be this amazing new aircraft. To help with the efforts, they opened a manufacturing plant in South Carolina. Unfortunately, the state wasn’t really ready to support that kind of manufacturing, so Boeing sent some key employees to the plant to kick things off.

From there, the story picks up from one of the whistle-blowers, Swampy, who was responsible for maintaining aircraft quality along the assembly line. In a rush to get the planes out, Swampy was held back from doing his job.

And apparently, Swampy wasn’t the only one to have these issues. In fact, some sources report as many as a dozen other whistle-blowersOpens in a new tab., so it appears that Boeing has some cultural problem that’s affecting the quality of their products.

Boeing Is Not Alone

When I heard this story, part of me felt relieved while the other part of me felt upset. After all, I complained about a lot of similar problems when I talked about why I quit my engineering career, so it felt both good and bad to hear that other engineering companies were having the same issues.

In my Military Mentality article, I discuss this “Hurry Up and Wait!” idea where everyone rushes to a solution only to be forced to wait. This cycle of poorly distributed responsibilities results in a lot of stress on teams which can have an impact on the final product.

As it turns out, I found myself in that exact predicament countless times as I was forced to meet some arbitrary deadline only to release a garbage product. Luckily, I wasn’t working on something mission critical like an aircraft, but you can see how this culture permeates the industry.

Perhaps the scariest part bit, to me, is that companies as successful as GE and Boeing carry a lot of pride in their work. As a result, you still have people who aren’t going to swallow their pride and admit mistakes even when they might kill somebody. Is that really where we’re at as an industry?

The Road to Recovery

Ultimately, I have a few questions:

  • How do we go about correcting these systematic problems in engineering?
  • What are some forces that promote this kind of culture?
  • What sort of damages have to occur before companies start addressing these problems?

Until we can answer these question, I guarantee we continue to see problems like this in the engineering giants like GE and Boeing.

At any rate, I just wanted to take some time to reflect on my engineering experience as it’s already been a year since I left. Now that I’m seeing some of the issues I saw in my own time come to light in other companies, I’m confident that these issues are systematic. Hopefully, we’ll start to address some of these problems soon.

Jeremy Grifski

Jeremy grew up in a small town where he enjoyed playing soccer and video games, practicing taekwondo, and trading Pokémon cards. Once out of the nest, he pursued a Bachelors in Computer Engineering with a minor in Game Design. After college, he spent about two years writing software for a major engineering company. Then, he earned a master's in Computer Science and Engineering. Today, he pursues a PhD in Engineering Education in order to ultimately land a teaching gig. In his spare time, Jeremy enjoys spending time with his wife, playing Overwatch and Phantasy Star Online 2, practicing trombone, watching Penguins hockey, and traveling the world.

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