…We are now accepting all boarding passes for flight 777 departing 3M and arriving at Boeing… Jim McNerney’s recent travels have caught the attention of many including the Six Sigma community. The question we are asking ourselves is, “can he do for Boeing what he did for 3M?” Michael Cyger, CEO and Publisher of iSixSigma, recently commented on the magnitude of McNerney’s move:

“The most significant issue facing the airline industry today is bankruptcy. The airline business model just doesn’t work (with the notable exceptions of a few low cost carriers) and airlines are being forced to reorganize under Chapter 11 – if they can’t, liquidation is the next step. McNerney and Boeing have a unique opportunity to assist airlines in their reorganization and return to profitability through the use of Lean Six Sigma — which hopefully McNerney will bring to Boeing with the fervor he had at 3M.”

Six Sigma is not the most prominent buzzword flying around Boeing…it’s Lean. Boeing has been heavily involved in applying Lean Manufacturing principles since the early 90s. It wasn’t until the late 90s that they began to complement their Lean initiatives with Six Sigma. Six Sigma at Boeing is not a corporate mandate. It began as a grassroots effort in 1999 and is now part of the Boeing Production System. Although annual reports do not mention Six Sigma by name they do call out Lean enterprise. The 2004 Annual Report states that Lean initiatives reduced costs by $210 million. Six Sigma does get press in the monthly newsletter, Boeing Frontiers,which has featured Six Sigma articles and success stories.

With Boeing’s solid foundation in Lean and experience using Six Sigma over the years, McNerney has a full deck ready to play. As his tenure at Boeing unfolds, we’ll soon see if he plays the Six Sigma card in an effort to step things up.


“The Boeing Production System is composed of several elements that work in concert to ensure an output of the highest-quality cost-effective products in the least amount of time. The Boeing Production System principles—Lean manufacturing, Six Sigma, value streams, global manufacturing and managing supplier relationships—are all elements that are critical to the company’s competitiveness.

“Since 1999, Boeing Commercial Airplanes has participated in numerous pilot projects using Six Sigma principles. Focusing intently on the customer, this data-driven way to manage variation in manufacturing and managing business processes also is relentlessly focused on business metrics and cultural change. Specially selected experts undergo extensive training and become certified as “green belts” or “black belts” depending on the degree of training and projects completed. Currently there are dozens of projects in work across Commercial Airplanes, with more than 300 trained as green belts and nearly 60 trained as black belts.”

Boeing Frontiers

“Six Sigma and the highly trained practitioners “complement Lean principles and employee involvement practices by enabling teams to solve their problems using data and not conjecture,” said Dan Allison, Boeing Huntsville Safety, Reliability and Quality Assurance director.”

Boeing Frontiers

Articles and Links

Randy’s Journal, Randy Baseler is vice president of marketing for Boeing Commercial Airplanes and regurlaly blogs for Boeing. In a recent post titled It’s in our handshe wrote about Jim McNerney taking over at the helm.

Six Sigma and OR at Boeing, Led by Dr. Shobbo Basu, INFORMS Roundtable Meeting at Cambridge, MA,April 25, 2004

Fans of Six Sigma, Boeing Frontiers, March 2005

CEO pick is Boeing’s latest tribute to GE, The Seattle Times, July 1, 2005

A lean defense, theManufacturer.com, January 31, 2005

Boeing knows lean, MRO Today, February/March 2002

Production Initiatives, Boeing Website

Integrated Defense Systems Key Contributor To Boeing Lean Enterprise, Boeing Website

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