Gongol.com Archives: March 2024

Brian Gongol

March 22, 2024

Business and Finance Boeing CFO admits to an institutional process problem

In an admission related to some troubling and massively embarrassing incidents, Boeing's CFO told an investing conference, "For years, we prioritized the movement of the airplane through the factory over getting it done right. That's got to change." ■ What he says ought to get the attention of his own company, but it's an admission with some broader ripples, too. One of the most important geopolitical factors now and in the coming years is a nation's ability to have a full roster of highly competent firms that are each capable of building complex systems. ■ The systems themselves -- not the products they put out, but the processes of making them -- have to be both designed and maintained. They have to be profitable and they have to be innovative. The US really pioneered the field of complex systems design (see "Rescuing Prometheus", by the great historian Thomas P. Hughes), but maintenance has been a weakness. And what isn't maintained almost always falls into decay. ■ It takes more than just engineering expertise to build things like aircraft carriers, nuclear power plants, and commercial airliners. It takes really strong management, too, by people who can see the whole chessboard at once. ■ When you see China's efforts to build their own carriers, their own nuclear plants, and their own large passenger jets, look past the products themselves. Look at the learning taking place and the refining of the skills required to build complex systems. ■ America, we need to get our act together. We're really good at the innovation part of complex system-building (our private-sector space race is a great illustration), but we chronically underperform our potential at maintaining those complex systems. Our economy has no real peers for dynamism. But we need to get better at holding on to our phenomenal gains for the long haul.

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