Copyright to Skip Reedy © 2012
Published here July 2014.

Editor's Note | Introduction | Introducing The Breakfast Club
The Airframe Stress Analysis Department | Results | Observations
Postscript – The Perfect Assignment | The Execution


Early and under budget are not typical for an airplane program. Just-on-time and massive overtime are normal. Scope is fixed. A derivative airplane is a new airplane derived from an existing airplane. However, more than 50% of this airframe was redesigned. This project started as part of a typical 2 to 3 year airplane program. It was also the company's first large-scale, multi-project, shared resource implementation of Critical Chain Project Management.


The project consisted of:

  • 1,000 engineers and drafters
  • 10,000 engineering drawings (2 weeks to 18 months duration)
  • Design, analysis, new technology, part and tool designs, & manufacturing plans
  • Unusually aggressive schedule
  • Tight budget $500,000,000
  • Unchangeable deadline
  • Each drawing had a committed due date
  • Earned Value (EV) and Lean were required.

And an excruciating Challenge.

The excruciating challenge was getting the Lead engineers to use Critical Chain Project Management (CCPM) in the first place. They knew how to design an airplane. They didn't need a "method." Lead engineers often committed to unrealistic and infeasible schedules before they completed their assessment of the project work statements or made plans, because "normal" project problems could let them off the hook.

Normal project problems

Typical or "normal" problems in the aircraft manufacturing industry include:

  • Can't predict due dates in their multitasking environment
  • Schedule performance has been poor
  • Can't predict drawing release performance
  • Long lead times
  • Too many changes
  • Suppliers unhappy with receiving drawings late
  • High costs
  • Chaos, pressure and firefighting are considered inescapable in these projects

Every program seems to have tried something new. None of them seem to have changed anything, so why bother? There were 30 unique cross-functional sub-teams/resource pools with dozens to hundreds of people on each team. Each team created 75 to 3000 drawings. Drawing complexity could require 2 weeks, 6 weeks or 18 months.

Design work started "on-time" whether or not the necessary structural stress load inputs were complete. This led to a double negative: designs had to be reworked when the "real" loads came out and the system was already struggling with unnecessary work in process.

Harmful policies

What were seen as harmful policies did not help matters either. Examples included:

  • Pushing more work into the system than the system could handle
  • Allowing and even encouraging multi-tasking
  • Rewarding and punishing on the basis of meeting intermediary milestones regardless of the impact on our effective capacity
  • Trimming excess capacity without understanding the impact
  • Priorities viewed as flexible
  • Project schedules being compressed and expected to be met
  • Resources being assigned based on task urgency, not project status
  • Introducing significant overtime leading to burn out.
Editor's Note  Editor's Note

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