Forum: What if Dumbledore supervised Boeing’s production line?

The professor’s advice to Harry Potter was to chose right over easy and quick. Is that what Boeing missed?

By Fabian Borowiecki / Herald Forum

“We must all face the choice between what is right and what is easy,” Professor Albus Dumbledore tells Harry Potter in “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.”

He was saying that sometimes the easiest decision is not always the right decision due to the possible outcomes. For instance, if one decides to cook their frozen pizza in the microwave instead of the oven, yes, the pizza will be done faster, but it will not have the same quality as if done properly in the oven.

I worked for Boeing for more than 37 years, and that same decision point came up occasionally during those years. Overwhelmingly the decision was to go with the right solution. There used to be a saying that “we make a mistake and people die.” I’d like to think that fellow employees knew that, kept to it, and applied it to all they accomplished while at work.

Then there were situations now and then where individuals thought they knew better and acted on that.

One situation involved a production manager who decided his people were spending too much time in, of all things, waiting for glue to dry and it was slowing down his production rate. He unilaterally told his people to use a different adhesive because he thought it was a minor matter. Several weeks later his people were getting better production rates, so he submitted an official request to Engineering to change the specification.

They reviewed the properties of the two adhesives and reiterated that only the approved glue should be used. When they found out that the non-approved adhesive had been in use for some weeks, they immediately issued orders to stop production as well as go back and fix all the parts that had gone through the shop with the wrong adhesive.

That resulted in several airlines having their delivery dates postponed. Quality Assurance was asked why they did not catch this substitution and explained that the shop personnel had been granted self-inspection status and their products were only subject to statistical inspection, meaning only every 10th or 15th assembly would be inspected, considering the stability of their production line.

So, it was just one person who decided he knew better, proceeded on that assumption, and made a holy mess of things. It was not upper management, Engineering, nor Quality Assurance that made this decision; it was one person at a relatively low level of authority.

I can imagine that the recent production problems Boeing has had have a similar root cause; that someone somewhere down the production line decided to cut corners in order to make production rate instead of bringing up the problem and getting it solved “the right way.” And that’s the so-called “culture” that has to be reinforced throughout Boeing, that the right decision is the only decision.

Then there is another thought about those missing door bolts on the 737 Max; that someone took them out in order to get something else done and then just forgot about them.

How about that “fully assembled” barbecue grill that you recently bought? When you brought it home did you go through the assembly instructions and verify that it was indeed fully assembled?

It’s the same thing on any assembly line; one makes the assumption that the upstream assembler correctly did all the work they had to do.

But someone has to be accountable and any CEO is ultimately responsible for what his company produces, so I applaud Dave Calhoun for his decision to shoulder the blame and step down as the honorable thing to do.

Fabian Borowiecki lives in Everett.

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