System Design and Management

The MIT Master's Program in Engineering and Management

Boeing’s 787 and the Challenges of Complex Global Systems


Mark D. Jenks, Vice President of Development, 787 Program, Boeing Commercial Airplanes

The design, development and production of Boeing’s 787 represent a highly integrated, complex and fundamentally global system. An overview of the 787 program is provided as context, describing not only the airplane’s technical innovations, but the unique elements of the business model used to design and integrate its extended global supply chain. Wide ranging elements of the development process, including the fundamental selection of technologies, supply chain design, intellectual property protection, labor relations, logistics, competitive marketing strategy and program financing are in fact all elements of a highly integrated system.

Many aspects of this process may be viewed as "classic", albeit highly complex, examples of systems engineering analysis. Deciding to design and build a small fleet of modified 747’s as the program’s logistics solution was part of a systems engineering analysis that included the basic elements of supplier selection, manufacturing process efficiency and inventory holding costs. On the other hand, understanding the cultural nuances associated with relocating a centuries old olive grove in Southern Italy or leveraging and integrating the different decision-making processes used by Japanese and American engineering teams represent less obvious, but no less critical, elements of successfully managing within this system.

Having recognized the diverse and highly integrated nature of this process, we must develop leaders who can understand and integrate the wide ranging technical, business and cultural elements of this complex global system.

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  • Sloan School of Management
  • School of Engineering
  • Engineering Systems Division

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