As someone who has a deep interest in the tools and techniques that companies use to monitor and control the performance of their ventures, I was surprised to learn that Boeing’s new Dreamliner project suffered yet another setback. Specifically, an in-flight fire on a Rolls-Royce engine may postpone the 787 Dreamliner’s entry into service for the seventh time, adding as much as a year to the three-year delay for the composite-plastic jet. Altogether, Boeing’s poor performance in achieving project objectives has cost it billions of dollars in penalty fees to the airlines.
My introduction to formal project management techniques began when I was given responsibility for implementing a business system–called Material Requirements Planning (MRP)–at the Beverage Equipment Division of FMC Corporation. At that time, FMC was a multi-billion dollar conglomerate with interests in the defense, petroleum, chemicals and food industries.
The Beverage Equipment Division was one of FMC’s smaller divisions, and I was a member of the steering committee that chose the software (ASK), which all of the smaller divisions eventually implemented.
Since that time, I have participated in a variety of projects as a project manager, project team member, and external project team consultant. Simultaneously, I have taught myself the fundamental principles of project management. I also teach courses in project management at local universities.
What is astonishing to me is that Boeing’s project management techniques are known as being the best in class. Over the years, the corporation has developed extensive project management tools and methods. Case studies have been written detailing how project management is part of the company’s corporate culture. And some companies benchmark their project management methodologies against Boeing’s.
One of the first lessons in project management is that all projects should be judged in terms of their ability to meet the “triple constraints” of performance, budget and schedule. On all counts, the Dreamliner project has failed miserably. How can a company—whose DNA is project management—fail to meet the most basic standards of performance? What do you think are the causes of Boeing’s fall? Has there been a lack of leadership at the top?