How Would You Like to Be in Charge of This?

The above is an image that depicts the global supply chain for Boeing’s 787 aircraft, often referred to as the Dreamliner.

I often use the image as the opening slide for my lecture on operations management since I think it captures so much about what operations are like these days.

I never knew so many companies were involved in making a Boeing aircraft; I just assumed they made most of the parts themselves. And the image really brings home the global nature of operations. Not only does it show that Boeing has operations around the world, but that the company partners with companies around the world.

So then I thought, well maybe there are companies that specialize in making aircraft wings. But if you look at that, it appears as if there are at least three companies providing the parts for the wing.

And then once all this stuff is delivered, Boeing has to put it all together.

The above photo is taken from Being’s assembly plant in Everett, Washington. It appears that they used to make about 10 Dreamliners per month at this facility.

And so far, this is only showing the outside of the airplane. I find the inside even more mind-boggling.

Here are some photos that depict the guts of an airplane. Not all of these photos are of the Dreamliner, but I can’t imagine it’s too different.

The cockpit of a 747:

An inside look of an “empty” Dreamliner:

The wiring inside an Airbus:

So can you imagine what it must be like to try and coordinate all of this?

That’s the role of a project manager, and I can’t imagine the stress of such a job.

You might say the basic goals of such a job are to get it finished on time and within budget.

The Dreamliner was more than three years behind schedule and billions over budget, with its first aircraft available in 2011.

I am sure the company and its investors were concerned about such time and cost overruns, but as a potential passenger, I want to make sure the plane gets me safely from point A to point B. I really don’t care how long it takes or how much it costs to make that happen.

And initially, when I heard about these delays and overspending, I thought how is that possible.

But when you look at all the photos above, perhaps you might have some sympathy for how challenging such a job must be.

And like I said, you also want to make sure they get it right.

Best of luck to Boeing, and all aircraft manufacturers.

And especially to the project managers.


image sources:



43 thoughts on “How Would You Like to Be in Charge of This?

  1. Hell, I could manage a project like this. Look at all the hodgepodge in this airplane design. And all the different colors, with the red nosecone, and the the blue, yellow, and orange fuselage. It sort of reminds me of that Johnny Cash song, “One Piece at a Time.” I think even a monkey could put a plane like this together. Or maybe one has.

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  2. The Commercial Airplane business for Boeing has increasingly become a Final Assembly operation. When your customers are all the countries of the world, this increases the pressure to give those countries a piece of the fabrication pie. If Boeing does not make partnership deals, the sale may go to Airbus.

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  3. I know airline travel is much safer than traveling in a car, and I prefer the much shorter travel times, but seeing all of the guts of an airplane just looks like thousands of things that could go wrong. Somehow that doesn’t make me feel more comfortable, regardless of who’s making the parts.

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  4. I hope someone is in charge and knows what the heck is going on. The Dreamliner had some serious problems at first with the lithium batteries made in Japan. As someone else said, sourcing parts in foreign countries helps sales. The launch customer was ANA (All Nippon Airways) and Japan Airlines had a big 787 order too.

    Boeing lost a lot of credibility with the MAX as did the FAA’s regulatory oversight efforts.

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    1. I’m sure all those problems made customers hesitant to fly on Boeing airplanes. But I must admit, that is not something I really check for when making a reservation…


  5. Thought provoking Jim.. and whilst most of us are aware of the multitude of components needed to fly a plane including a pilot,seeing them laid out like this, I am with Pete.. I cannot imagine the fuss if they finish and there is a small gidget sat on the bench looking as if it should be somewhere else.. great post thanks..

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  6. A very interesting article. I never would have thought that Boing would also have parts manufactured worldwide. The term supply chain, which is mostly only used for end customer business, takes on a completely different meaning here. Thank you for sharing, and have a beautiful week! Michael

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