Boeing's Global Enterprise Technology Process: Personality-Driven Research Is Avoided by Applying Systems Engineering to R&D Management in the Company's Central Research Organization

Article excerpt

Over the last three years, The Boeing Company has collaborated across its business units (Boeing Commercial Airplanes, Integrated Defense Systems, and Phantom Works) to establish and operate a systems-engineering based and strategically-driven process for managing the enterprise technology portfolio. This article explains some of the approaches, outcomes and lessons learned from this effort.

The Global Enterprise Technology System (GETS) is the technology management process for the central research and development of Boeing, a $54-billion-a-year aerospace company. The 1997 merger of Boeing and McDonnell Douglas brought together two complementary aerospace companies, each with roughly $25 billion per year in revenue and a diverse range of technologybased products. Today the combined company serves customers in 145 countries with products and services that include:

* Commercial airplanes and related products and services.

* Defense products such as military airplanes, rotorcraft, missiles, communications systems, and services.

* Space products, such as satellites, launch vehicles, and services.

* A growing array of advanced networked system-of-systems products for both commercial and defense applications.

This diversity of products and services draws on an even wider array of technologies, all of which are evolving at various rates, constantly opening up new opportunities. One of the ways Boeing meets the varied needs of these markets is through a focused research organization called Boeing Phantom Works, often referred to as the "catalyst of innovation" for the enterprise. Phantom Works is Boeing's central research organization, and contains a number of R&D programs, or "thrusts," which address areas of common technology needed for our diverse product lines. This R&D focuses on technologies that are of broad use across Boeing's current and future product lines, enabling these product areas to more quickly and efficiently execute their plans for new products, services and features.

Boeing Phantom Works contains a varied portfolio addressing the needs of many technologies, including structures and manufacturing, advanced electronics, system-of-systems and network-centric operations, and advanced services. The portfolio also addresses needs for advanced engineering processes, methods and tools. The GETS process guides the management of this collection.

Objectives and Challenges

A large enterprise must have an approach to managing innovation across many areas in a manner that is focused and connected, without hindering creativity. Without a clear and systematic process for managing innovation, a company can default into a "personality-driven" approach to research decisions. With personality-driven R&D, the portfolio is based more on preferences and hunches than on a systematic view of the whole company and its opportunities. Personality-driven research management is risky, because decisions can easily fail to consider a broad enough set of strategic inputs.

In developing the GETS process, Boeing had several key objectives. The process should be:

* Highly collaborative, drawing many types of participants together in the innovation process.

* Systematic, applying systems engineering principles and process concepts.

* Lean, enabling enterprise-level R&D to respond effectively and efficiently to Boeing business needs.

* Continuous, enabling management of the portfolio in response to changes in our needs and opportunities as they arise.

* Traceable, ensuring clear linkage of R&D efforts to business needs.

* Promote a high level of innovation, experimentation and discovery.

* Enable longer-term R&D to be properly related to near-term R&D.

* Draw appropriately from external and global sources of R&D such as labs, universities and other companies. …