Strange is just better

General Electric has a facility in North Carolina that builds, among other things, airplane engines. The teams at the Durham facility build their engines from scratch. The wicked thing is there’s no middle management. This is how they get stuff done 👇

A single team manages everything from hiring to performance monitoring for their unit. If a mechanic is causing an engine to get behind schedule, he will hear about it from someone in no time. If one-on-one feedback doesn’t sort things out then the whole team gets involved.

They begin with a blueprint and plan out the assembly procedure. They acquire tools, track shortages, modify schedules to meet ship dates, ensure quality control, conduct inspections, ship to the test site, and end by reviewing the post-test fault reviews before shipping.

Every mechanic on the team rotates into each of these roles and is able to assemble each part of the engine. These strange teams attach their business cards on the engines with pride as they go out the door.

In five years they have reduced the cost of an engine by 10% each year, resulting in a 30% cost improvement on a 20-year-old product. Didn’t miss one shipment in 38 months and 500 engines. They also reduced the average number of defects from 4 to 1 per engine.

Cultivating a strange workforce that obsesses about things that customers care about is a necessary condition if you’re looking for sustained advantage. And your systems need to be just as strange as the workforce you hope to create.

This was taken from a book called ‘Change to Strange’. The actual case study comes from Fishman, C., “Engines of Democracy,” Fast Company. October 1999, 175-202.