Flying High with Project Management

As my closest friends know, I am a huge airplane buff. I love aviation and really love to follow the large aircraft  manufactures as they develop the next generation of planes to transport millions of people a day. Recently on the Financial Times of London, there was a great article talking about the ongoing war between Boeing and Airbus to gain control of the wide body aircraft market. For those of you that do not know, a wide body aircraft is for the most part one that has more than one aisle running the length of the aircraft. Currently, examples of this type of plane would be the 787, 777, 747, A380, etc. They are needless to say very large aircraft and occupy large air routes.

Long-haul contender: the twin-engine Airbus A350 is rolled out of the factory in Toulouse. The manufacturer is hoping to stage a fly-past at the Paris air show

Many individuals that pay attention to the news will hear stories about endless delays for these manufactures in their development of new aircraft due to any number of reasons. Something that occurred to me is that while many of these delays can take headlines, they are really a larger product of poor project management practice. It is absolutely true that aircraft have a very very long lifespan within the marketplace and traditionally, a new product is on the market for 20 or 30 years at a time. This timeframe supports the extensive time and costs that are required to bring a new product to market that truly revolutionizes the marketplace and well as providing a product that provides business justification to airlines to purchase these new fleets. While these timeframes are very long, the recent trend has been to experience extreme delays in these developments and more importantly, in customer delivery. I have started to ask myself if these firms are starting to reach an unrealistic view of the requirements in the developments of these next gen products.

787 wide body interior
787 wide body interior

Bringing two perfect examples into context, both Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner and the Airbus A350 are two of the most recent entrants into the marketplace and both are constructed of something called carbon fiber. This technique allows for extreme strength of the airframe while significantly dropping the weight on the aircraft. Additionally, both of these aircraft are being constructed using a significantly diverse supply chain as opposed to more traditionally held models supported by the manufactures themselves. The project timeframes were simply unrealistically constructed and did not take into account the possibility of things going wrong all over the place. This delayed both aircraft by literally years as problems had to be worked out in both design and the supply chain. This is becoming a chronic trend for these firms and quite frankly in my opinion, these issues are ripping down their reputations.

The question to all of us project manager students is simple. When we are working on our own development schedules, how do we intend to build in time for the foreseen and unforeseen issues that can occur and what do we do when we are faced with such troubles both from a management and reputation standpoint?


Big guns blaze in wide-body war

5 thoughts on “Flying High with Project Management

  1. I think it’s prudent to budget for a certain percentage of overage (i.e. time and/or expenses). You don’t necessarily have to communicate that you’ve budgeted for the overage though. That will hopefully keep the team in check!

  2. Generally speaking a project schedule is one of the first steps to any project. At the time a project schedule is made it is impossible to know what issues may arise. As a project manager becomes more experienced the schedule may become closer to the real world but unforeseen issues will still arise. When putting together a project schedule I often times approach it with a more pessimistic attitude. When there is a task that will take between 4 to 6 weeks I will often choose 6. The issue with padding a schedule is does not portray what is really happening with a project. When a schedule is passed on to a customer they may look at a schedule and notice that tasks are shown to take longer than they typically would and therefore may lose confidence. I make it a point to make sure to update all my project schedules at least once a week and communicate to everyone involved with the project of any changes. With this approach there are no surprises and steps can be taken to get back to the baseline schedule.

  3. I really like the thought of ‘new commercial aircraft manufacturing as really long product development cycle’. I don’t think people really realize that the 727 they are sitting in can be usually 20 years old and may have been retrofitted three times. Airplanes are just another expensive asset. Maybe this industry should look at Construction Management and apply it to large manufacturing. Modular design and construction have a lot a parallels to the observations you make in your post.

  4. I remember from one of operations management classes, it mentions that Boeing wants to share the huge of financial risk of building the Dreamliner 787, it partner with international suppliers. Boeing teamed with more than 20 international suppliers to develop technology and design the concept of the 787. When deal with worldwide supply chain, it is very difficult to anticipate what can go wrong. First, they need to find the exceptional developers and suppliers, wherever they might be. In additional, these developers and suppliers are willing to take the risk associated with this extremely new products. Therefore is crucial to communicate effectively to make sure those components of Dreamliners are meeting the quality and delivery on time. Boeing choose to assembly all parts the come from all around the world to assembly at Washington, if any of these parts did not meet the standard or delay, it would cost lots of problems. Plus, freight charge is not cheap.

  5. Lets be realistic. Its impossible to plan for any Issues that may arise during the production phase. However, a plan is definitely needed. A project schedule should be well organized before any project begins. From then on its trial and error. As the project manager gains more experience, the better he or she can compensate for mishaps during the production process.

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