Posted by: Alper MERMER Comments: 0

When Greed Trumps Quality: Part-1, Boeing

Hello everyone! Today, let’s delve into the pivotal Boeing incident: a cautionary tale where the repercussions of neglecting quality echo loud and clear. This will be a brilliant testament to the quote: “Quality isn’t just a checkbox; it’s the foundation of trust and reputation.”

Boeing has recently dominated discussions, serving as a reminder of the dire consequences when quality takes a back seat, which has been very popularly discussed in recent days.

I contemplated starting this article by exploring the shifts in human psyche over the past century. The rise of social media has led to the relentless pursuit of popularity and wealth. People have shifted to measure their worth based on how much they are liked, and how much wealth they accumulated. These societal dynamics even subtly impact our software quality processes. However I’ve saved these deep topics for another day. Instead, let’s focus on the Boeing saga – an eye-opening narrative that underscores the importance of prioritising quality.

Firstly, for those who are not familiar with the Boeing incident, I would like to briefly summarise it. Boeing is one of the two most important companies that come to mind, especially when it comes to commercial aircraft production. This company, especially with its model named 737 MAX, has experienced significant quality issues. These problems, of course, brought to light the quality issues experienced by other models, and cast a shadow over the company’s reputation. As the company grapples with the fallout, let’s take a brief journey through the timeline of these tumultuous events.

  • October 29, 2018: Lion Air Flight 610 crashes after takeoff from Jakarta, killing 189.

  • January 30, 2019: Boeing announces record earnings, surpassing $100 billion.

  • March 10, 2019: Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 crashes after takeoff from Addis Ababa, killing 157.

  • March 11-15, 2019: China and subsequently other countries, including the US, ground the 737 Max.

  • April 4, 2019: Boeing admits the MCAS contributed to crashes.

  • July 24, 2019: Boeing reports a $3.7 billion quarterly loss.

  • December 20-23, 2019: Boeing’s Starliner fails to reach the ISS; CEO Dennis Muilenburg is fired.

  • January 2020: Boeing halts 737 Max production; internal communications reveal safety doubts.

  • March 4, 2020: United and JetBlue cut flights as COVID-19 impacts air travel.

  • May 27, 2020: Boeing announces layoffs of 7,000 workers.

  • August 28, 2020: FAA briefly grounds eight 787 Dreamliners over manufacturing concerns.

  • November 18, 2020: FAA ends the 20-month grounding of the 737 Max.

  • 2021-2024: Ongoing issues include tequila bottles found in Air Force One jets, manufacturing shortcuts, and additional FAA audits and fines.

So, what happened? The causes of all these events, the mistakes or missteps that led to them, can be subject to many comments. There are many shortcuts in quality that I could mention, but to briefly summarise, let’s briefly discuss some of the main reasons that both the company itself and other researchers have focused on.

  1. MCAS Design: The Manoeuvring Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS) was implicated in two fatal crashes due to its reliance on a single sensor and lack of adequate pilot training and disclosure.

  2. Internal Communications: Leaked internal communications revealed that employees had doubts about the 737 Max’s safety, describing inadequate oversight in its design and supervision.

  3. Self-Regulation and Conflict of Interest: The FAA’s decision to delegate airplane certification to Boeing employees represents a significant conflict of interest, undermining quality control. This self-regulation allowed Boeing to potentially prioritise speed over thorough safety checks, compromising the integrity of their quality assurance processes.

  4. Manufacturing Shortcuts: Reports surfaced of non-standard manufacturing processes and other shortcuts that affected quality and safety, leading to additional FAA audits and investigations. Many of these manufacturing issues stemmed from inadequate quality control measures with subcontractors, emphasising speed and delivery over quality and safety. 

  5. Regulatory Oversight: The FAA’s delayed response in grounding the 737 Max raised questions about Boeing’s influence over the certification and oversight process.

How ironic for a company whose slogan is ‘if it is not Boeing, I’m not going’! Now, let’s all look together at how this negative example can be related to our actual topic, which is software quality.

When we look at the list, we can see that it consists of topics that are not unfamiliar in the software industry either. Deploying features that are not ready due to the pressure of ‘we must launch immediately, we must deliver immediately’. Not providing adequate training about these features. Treating quality specialists as if they are unnecessary and not including them in the process, and even using absurd slogans frequently found in agile software development such as ‘Everyone should be a developer’ which implies there’s no need for a dedicated tester. There are some very familiar reasons here, such as self-regulation and the belief that the team does not need external oversight or oversight from another role. We could talk about these for hours and make many elaborations, but the message I want to convey is probably clear by now. If we see ourselves as unrivalled, if we believe that any mistake we make will not harm us in any way and will not cause any loss of reputation among our users, then as Gerald Weinberg also says in his books, we don’t need to test. You might choose not to test, you might not care about quality. But like any real-world company with such concerns, you can prevent these kinds of disasters by addressing quality from start to finish with real experts, and by involving quality specialists at every point of software development. 

Just because there has never been a fire in your house doesn’t mean you don’t need a smoke detector. The amount you stand to lose when a fire does occur is immense. Like these companies, taking shortcuts, prioritising money and especially greed will harm your prestige and your company’s stance, and will definitely be detrimental to you and your company in the medium and long term. So let’s settle these quality processes together so you, your employees, and your customers can wholeheartedly say, ‘Yes, this product is ours and we are proud of it’. Sending you all my love and respect. See you in my next post.

“Quality isn’t just a checkbox; it’s the foundation of trust and reputation.”

For a much lighthearted touch on things, please watch this

And also a great in detail review of the overall situation here and here.