Inside Boeing IT
After fighting the insanity that was Boeing IT for nineteen years I found myself transferred into it. I would spend my final 12 years with the company there. Some of it was among the most rewarding work I was able to do with the company, and some of it was absolutely the worst, with horrific stress levels.
I would totally fail in my quest to try to convince the organization that it should measure itself they the impact and results of its work. People working in IT loved to complain that the rest of the company treated them like a cost center and didn't appreciate what they did. And yet, their primary performance reporting metric was budget performance. It was totally pathetic.
On the positive side, after "graduating" from Boeing, my time in IT would be of enormous help and inspiration for my first book, The Tao of IT. Instructions on how to order a copy can be found here and it is available on eBay.
Continuing with the instructions I received from BCA Everett when they were forced to transfer me to the BCA central architecture group, in all of my work inside IT would continue to campaign for the support the commercial airplane company needed. Most of this was a wasted effort because of the measurement problem.
John Doerr's book was not available in those days, or I would have purchased a few dozen copies and passed them out to key people in IT. But, it probably would not have mattered. IT was run like a religion with known "truths" based on the latest technical trends and fads. Actually learning about their customers was just not in the DNA of Boeing IT. The few things they did do to try to gain customer insight were superficial at best.
The standard in IT was to blame the customer for everything. Their excuse was that they would build whatever documented requirements said that they should, and then literally blame their customers for any and all shortcomings. For additional fig leaves, they loved to talk about such metrics as average service availability with zero data to support the relevancy of such metrics. Pathetic is not a strong enough word for the the way the business was run.
I did what I could by conducting seminars, asking relevant questions during meetings of the architecture standards board, always dropping what I was doing to take someone or group on a "gemba walk" or tour in one of the factories. I also would occasionally end up trying to explain to folks how it was that something as big and massive as an airplane could fly, which I'll share on one of the pages linked below. I've noticed that most people after hearing the standard explanation about the difference in the speed of the air over the top and bottom surfaces of a wing don't seem to have any more of a feel for what is going on than before they asked the question, so I came up with a simpler and much easier way to get an intuitive grasp of it.
I continued to dabble in a few cutting edge projects, and one interesting long range research assignment. Links to each of these are also below. The one thing that merits some explanation on this page is how it came to pass that I got promoted to be a full Technical Fellow of The Boeing Company, the highest non-managerial position Boeing had to offer.
Given how much knowledge and experience I had accumulated about the entire scope of Boeing's defense and commercial businesses, and having visited most Boeing sites, including those that came in with the acquisition of North American Aviation from Rockwell, which included a couple pieces of the legendary Consolidated Aviation, and sites that came in with the merger with McDonnell Douglas, which include yet more pieces of Consolidated, I came to the conclusion that the value I represented to Boeing IT was quite significantly different from what they were paying me. So for the first and only time in my working life, one day I went into by boss's office (it was Dave Mueller) and explained that I thought an out of sequence raise was in order. He agreed, and said he would go talk to Vaho about it.
A few days later, he called me in and said they had talked it over and decided that instead of giving me the raise, they wanted me to apply for promotion to full Technical Fellow. You could have pushed me over with a feather. That was way beyond how I had ever imagined myself. But, with a lot of help from Dave Kasik and Jimmy Farricker, I applied, went through the several interviews, and made it. I got the raise, and some nice recognition to go with it.
Most of my final years were spent teaching, both as a guest speaker in various programs others were running, and in a seminar series that I developed on my own, and expanded to a series of sixteen one hour sessions, which often ran over at the request of the students. This expansion was done at the request of my very good friend Tim Ellis. Tim arranged for me to present it at a number of BCA locations, including Everett, Renton, and North Charleston. I also setup and taught sessions in Bellevue.
I also spent quite a bit of time coaching fellowship candidates, including trying to get some recognition for Sharon Rice at the Frederickson site, who was perhaps the most deserving, and yet unrewarded candidate I ever coached. I chalk that up to the fact that the parts plants simply did not get the respect and appreciation that the deserved. The idea of an ATF from one of them was just too different for the selection process to accept. That was an injustice on several levels.
Another activity that saw me doing a lot of research and teach during my last fourteen years with the company was teaching people about lean, and especially its origins within Boeing. That's the subject of another book I am working on, so it will not be covered in this "About" section on the Boeing Years. When it is completed, I'll put up some pages for it and provide links here.
My projects included four big items, and a bunch of smaller consulting gigs. My first project after being transferred into IT was to research what, if anything, global warming, should be factored into the organization's strategic planning. I worked on that with Conrad Kimball. Another big one was the work with Steve Venema on a solution for networking the 777 mobile tooling control systems. That became the CS3 system. A second project with Steve was adding real time location services (RTLS) using active RFID tags to the world of WiFi. Finally, the work with Steve led to the one really good idea that I think I have had in my working career, which is something I'm still chasing as I write this. I call that one "fixing the internet."
In order to understand what my three big technical projects were about, a few simple things about how networks are constructed are necessary to understand. So, a very brief introduction to the basics is provided here. I encourage anyone interested in the projects, especially the one about "Fixing the Internet" to start with the section on BASICs.
And then it was over. As I was rolling my luggage cart with the last boxes of my personal belongings out to the parking lot on my last day as an employee at the Everett site, I must have had a big smile on my face or something. As I neared the gate someone I had never met who was coming in for second shift stopped me and asked: "It's your last day isn't it?" I said yes, and he wished me well." I could literally feel the stress draining out of me.