Control in Virtual Teams: The Case of Boeing

The new Boeing 787 “Dreamliner” has plenty going for it. First, it’s designed to be built with mostly carbon-fiber plastic rather than aluminum. Next, the design and manufacturing was outsourced to other companies. This was, as Boeing indicated, meant to save money and time. However, the global virtual teams that were hired had difficulty, outsourced their own work, and resulted in the 787 being at least six months late. This article by Surinder Kahai explains what went wrong and what Boeing did to correct mistakes made in the control of virtual teams. The problems were as follows: language barriers, culture clashes, and supply chain issues. Boeing failed to identify how the hired companies might further outsource the work – creating a further distance from the plane maker and their products. If Boeing had better managed the control of virtual teams early, the problems may not have reached the project-dragging levels that it did. As Kahai explains: Leaders of virtual teams have two options for implementing formal controls: outcome and behavior controls. Outcome control is achieved by measuring and regulating the outcomes sought, such as the quality and the quantity of the products or services being produced by the outsourcer who is working on the virtual team’s project. On the other hand, behavior control relies on articulating procedures or processes to be followed by those working on the project and then monitoring how well the procedures or processes are followed. Behavior control may be achieved through the specification of rules of engagement, articulation of work assignments and schedules, submission of project plans and reports, training of team members about proper use of technology, and after action reviews. Outcome control is recommended when the desired outcomes can be specified clearly. Behavior control, on the other hand, is recommended when the task is well understood and the desired work processes can be defined a priori. Kahai makes this point next: consider why you are outsourcing development work. If you’re doing it to save money immediately, or are you hoping to lower costs over the long run? The truth is that outsourcing development can result in cost saving, but only in the long term and only if the proper controls are put in place. Boeing has responded to the unwanted outcome of virtual teams by sending its own employees to remote development centers as well as putting Pat Shanahan – a “detail-man”, in charge of the program. Could this have been avoided – perhaps, but the value of putting behavior control in place early will now remain a mystery in the case of Boeing.

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