The Problem of the Strategy, Culture, Change & Filters
Post 9 of 13
Author: Peter Jay Sorenson CMC®, StrategicOrganizationDesign.com
Stickhandling in a Hidebound Culture
30 August 2013
The 777 Program was not an easy program to pull off. The very newness of the approach, the technical challenges of the design and build process, the technical innovations in the airplane, and the cultural setting of the Program within the context of the broader Boeing organization made the project rife with confusion, conflict, and turmoil. But by creating the Interlocking Team Governance structure the leaders got a toehold on making it work.
Designing, building, and nurturing an organization is more like growing orchids or bonsai trees than over-the-horizon stand off bombing. It is an intense, hands-on exercise that requires managing numerous variables at once. It requires patience, wisdom, and sensitivity.
Leaders and members face a huge challenge in creating and maintaining alignment in an organization. Alignment has several dimensions. They include at least horizontal alignment, vertical alignment, and cultural alignment.
The horizontal business processes that form the pathway and glue that keep the work of the organization progressing are a critical organization design element that need to be intentionally crafted and nurtured. The whole value chain from basic raw materials (think iron and aluminum ore, sand, petroleum, and a thousand other ingredients) to the fully functional aircraft carrying people and cargo around the world should be the product of our intentional efforts. Each link from the chain of suppliers and the suppliers to suppliers to the airlines and passengers needs to be choreographed into a finely tuned dance of the organizational ecosystem. The whole value chain needs to be aligned around the purpose of building an airplane. Well, perhaps it is better to say that the purpose is to create value in the eyes of each customer from the raw materials to the end users who are moving around the world. This value chain is really organized to fulfill the dreams and desires of the traveling public. To help them fulfill their life purposes by being where they want to be, when they want to be there, to do what they need to do.
The way that folks in the 777 Program reinforced that alignment was to create the cross- functional work teams (Design-Build Teams). There were about 200 of these teams with membership that ranged from 5 to 15 people, for a total of 2000 to 3000 members, depending on the phase of the program.
These teams were more broadly kept in alignment by the next level up teams called Airplane Integration Teams. The members of these teams were drawn from the Design-Build Teams. There were five of these teams made up of 12 to 15 people. Their primary purpose was to ensure that there was horizontal communication to support a healthy value chain.
It is not uncommon, as a matter of fact it is typical, for the top, middle, and bottom of the organization to be disconnected from each other (See Barry Oshry1). Without intentional effort that disconnection will seriously hamper the operation of the organization and keep it from achieving world class performance. So how do you make that alignment happen?
In the 777 Program it was done by having an interlocking vertical and horizontal organization comprised of interdependent teams. We have already mentioned the Design-Build Teams and the Airplane Integration Teams. The next level of team was the Cross-Functional Team Leadership Group. This group of 60 people, half from engineering and half from operations, provided 30 pairs of people to provide oversight and guidance to the Cross-Functional Work Teams / Design-Build Teams.
The next level, the Senior Leadership Cross-Functional Team was made up of 30 people from all the functions and disciplines of the organization. This group provided overall guidance to make sure horizontal, vertical, and cultural integration was taking place. They worked to resolve conflicts that bubbled up and made sure that the right points of view were infused into the organizational process at the right times. In short, they made sure that the filters being used were analysis and synthesis based filters, not power based, politically motivated filters. They wanted information flow to be open and targeted to get the work done. These people also made the policy choices to support the execution of the organizational purpose.
The final level was the Six Person Senior Leadership Team comprised of Phil Condit, Alan Mullaly, and four Vice Presidents. These were the direction setters and the public face of the 777 Program to the world. They were ensuring that the conversations that needed to take place were in reality taking place. They also refereed conflict, crafted policy, and made resource allocation decisions. They used their power to get things done and draw people into the collaborative process.
These structural mechanisms drove horizontal and vertical alignment and integration in the 777 Program. Without them that alignment would would not have happened.
1 Oshrey, Barry, www.powerandsystems.com