Is Enhanced Collaboration, or Something Else, Behind Boeing's Relocation of Engineers?

Ann All

Even in an age where it's possible to collaborate with people across the world, some business processes work best when coworkers are in relatively close proximity to each other. E-mail, instant messaging, internal social networks and videoconferencing, solo or in combination, just can't convey all of the nuances that occur in face-to-face communications.


Google and other companies use the much-vaunted free lunches to boost collaboration.The director of an Irish technology incubator had architects move stairs and an elevator in a building renovation and even lowered the price of coffee served in the cafeteria, in efforts to ensure colleagues got more face time Intel and other early advocates of telecommuting have recalled some workers back to the office to improve team relations.


So Boeing's decision to relocate several hundred of its engineers from one Washington plant to another to bring them closer to plane designers and builders makes intuitive sense. Wrote Mike Denton, Boeing's VP of Commercial Airplanes Engineering, in an e-mail:

We expect closer collaboration to help improve quality, identify risks early and strengthen development decisions.

Still, my first reaction was it seems odd coming from Boeing, which outsourced the design and creation of components for the Dreamliner 787 jet, its "next big thing" aircraft, to multiple outside partners. The move certainly didn't win it any love from Boeing employees, who said the decision has contributed to the Dreamliner's lengthy production delays and quality woes.


The move of engineers from Renton to Everett, Wash., which is a good 45 minutes from Renton, likely won't be popular with members of the Society of Professional Engineering Employees in Aerospace (SPEEA) Local 2001, which represents 2,074 Boeing employees in Renton. Bill Dugovich, a spokesman for the union, said ithe relocation will increase the commute by 25 miles or more for 360 of the 669 engineers reportedly expected to be moved.


A Boeing spokesman quoted in n a story said the Everett factory is gearing up to build the Dreamliner. However, The Wall Street Journal reported in November that Boeing is expanding facilities in South Carolina to house assembly of the Dreamliner. Though the WSJ reports "company officials have been careful to paint the move as an expansion of its facilities and not a shift away from Washington," it also mentions previous strikes and other problems with union workers in Washington. It's probably no coincidence that South Carolina is a right-to-work state.


A commenter on the story, calling him/herself cheapseats, believes the Renton-to-Everett move of some engineers will ultimately lead to a chain of events that will result in Boeing leaving Washington.

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Feb 8, 2010 3:49 AM billy ray billy ray  says:

Fact is boeing has been saying they were going to do this for 5-10 years depending on who you ask.  I am not saying boeing is not tending away from WA...they might be, but this is not related to that move. 

Feb 8, 2010 12:54 PM Ray Ray  says:

Boeing's outsourcing on the 787 was such a failure that it nearly (and may still) bankrupted the company.  There are a variety of measures being implemented that appear to be lessons learned from that adventure.

This move may or may not be a good idea.....but the fact that the company is now grappling with the problems caused by the 787 business model is a good sign.  They spent years pretending that those problems didn't exist.


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