Wednesday, January 11th 2012 was a big day for the project. Some major construction milestone? No. Some big purchase or installation? No. New partnership? No. So what happened? Steve Atkins visited!
So what? Well, Steve Atkins is the Boeing executive in charge of the Opportunities for New Engineers organization. It is through his support that Boeing is financing this entire incredible learning experience for all of us. So yes, it was a big deal. Usually when some leader/VIP comes to see a facility people go out of their way to make things nice. Fortunately for us we did not have to worry about that as our project spoke for itself. Our cabin mockup had become operational a few days earlier. The fuselage team had installed the firewall and the header tank was almost complete. The wing, very close to complete at the time of the visit, had all the ribs, fuel level sensors, autopilot servos, pitot tubes, wires, and all kinds of things installed.
We walked him around and showed him all of the work that we had performed. We had him sit down in the cabin mockup, flip some switches, and see the avionics come to life. From his smile he seemed to be enjoying himself. But what really struck me the most was what happened after we had shown him the project was that he started asking some interesting questions. The questions had nothing to do with “why did you pick those avionics?” or “how strong is that layup there?”. The questions were “what has been your biggest challenge?” “what is the greatest long-term risk to the project?” “how difficult has the schedule planning been?”. At first the questions puzzled me a bit but then I realized that all the answers that I gave him were valuable lessons that I had learned and that I could easily apply in my daily job. In other words, he was interested in what we were LEARNING. He wanted to see the the project was having the desired effect; that in addition to building a wonderful flying machine we were learning how to be better engineers and leaders within Boeing.
So here I want to say, on behalf of the entire team, Thank you Steve! Thanks for giving us the opportunity to build something we love, and thank you for the opportunity to learn these important lifelong lessons that will help us and Boeing become better.