Comment: same problem – same lack of solution

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This story is sourced from Flight International
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Boeing delivered the original 747 late and massively over-budget. Why? There were several reasons, but they could all be traced back to the airframer's decision to starve the programme of the engineering resources diverted to support the higher-profile, but ill-fated, supersonic transport.

It seems irony is still rich in supply in Seattle. Four decades after that debacle, Boeing allowed the engineering needs of another top-priority project - the 787-8 - to essentially cripple the development schedule for the stretched, re-winged and modernised 747-8.

A planned migration of engineers from the 787-8 to the 747-8 in the third quarter of 2007 never happened. Boeing's solution took a page from the 787 development strategy, spreading the risk on the 747-8 engineering shortfall to a global hodgepodge of suppliers.

Unfortunately, the end-result also took a page from the 787-8 experience. Unexpected design problems became harder to manage across a far-flung engineering enterprise. A start-up supply chain waited in vain for guidance on the new tooling and materials required by extensive structural design changes.

As with the 787-8, Boeing executives seemed oblivious to the depth of the 747-8 problem, launching a programme review only in August 2008 after realising that parts to assemble the first 747-8 Freighter were not being delivered after all. The good news, of sorts, is that Boeing's financial outlook today is not dependent on the health of the 747-8.

Boeing clearly has a problem with managing a development team it does not directly control on site in Everett, Washington. Industry trends are clear that managing a global workforce with risk-sharing partners is not an extravagance, but an essential ingredient for corporate survival.

Will Boeing learn the right lesson this time?