Boeing Product Managers Struggle To Come Back From The 737 MAX Disaster

Boeing's product managers need to find ways to rebuild trust
Boeing’s product managers need to find ways to rebuild trust
Image Credit: Ferry Octavian

Every product manager job is different. Some are easy and some are hard. Right now, being the product manager at Boeing who is responsible for the 737 MAX jet would defiantly fall into the difficult category. The reason that this would be such a hard job to have right now is because this airplane has experienced a set of disastrous crashes. In October, Lion Air Flight 610 crashed just minutes after taking off from Jakarta, Indonesia. It was the first fatal accident involving a 737 Max. 189 people died. This was followed in March when Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302, involving the same Max jet model, also crashed minutes after takeoff, killing all 157 people on board. How can product manager come back from product setbacks like this?

First Steps In Recovering From A Product Disaster

The first thing that the Boeing product managers need to understand is exactly what challenges they are currently facing. The first is that they have to get international regulators to sign off on changes that they are proposing making to the 737 MAX jet in order to ensure that it is safe to fly. Once that is taken care of, it is possible that MAX airline customers may look for ways to delay the delivery of the planes that they have purchased simply because the grounding of the 737 MAX planes means that they will have now missed the busy summer season. At the same time, some airlines may decide that they want to receive their aircraft earlier than was originally scheduled.

The Boeing product managers are going to have to tailor their aircraft delivery plans and their product development definition. Regulators are going to be the ones who will ultimately determine when the 737 MAX can return to service. However, it is believe that this will take at least another 10 weeks. The aircraft was grounded after the second MAX crash that occurred within five months of the first. An important point is that the international regulators may not operate together and this means that some regulators may lag behind others in lifting the flight ban on the 737 MAX. Boeing has had some difficulties working with the U.S. FAA regulators and there have been a series of miscommunications.

The conflicts between the FAA and Boeing first started when the day before the FAA expected Boeing to provide them with the final version of the software changes the company informed them that they were not ready to do so. Boeing said that an internal review had discovered technical problems with the fix. This surprised and upset the FAA. The next day Boeing held a press conference and said that they believed that their changes would address the accidents that had happened. It was a full two weeks later before Boeing announced that they had completed the software changes that were required. This kind of miscommunication is not going to look good on anyone’s product manager resume.

Long Term Strategy For Making A Product Successful Once Again

Even after Boeing is able to convince regulators that they have fixed the problems with the 737 MAX, the product managers are still going to have a lot of work to do. In order to address these issues, Boeing has recently held a series of events with their airline partners as they are preparing design changes that should allow the 737 MAX to get back into service. The biggest challenge that is facing the product managers is figuring out how to both earn and re-earn the trust of the flying public.

The product managers are also going to have to work with the airlines who fly the 737 MAX. The impact of having all of their 737 MAX aircraft grounded has had a significant financial impact on the airlines that use the 737 MAX. This impact will be a result of the higher costs and the lower sales that can be tied to all of the cancelled flights that the grounded aircraft caused. If the 737 MAX was to remain grounded for another three months, then it will have missed out on the majority of the summer months which are the busiest travel period for the airlines.

Clearly the airlines have taken a financial hit from the grounding of the 737 MAX. Now the Boeing product managers have to determine how they are going to win their aircraft customers once again. Boeing is currently talking with their customers about potential compensation. This compensation could come in many different forms including cash payments. Any compensation would probably be stretched over multiple years. All of the airlines that use the 737 MAX are hoping that regulators will quickly agree to return it to service so that they can once again start to make money from the aircraft that they have purchased.

What All Of This Means For You

As product managers we want our customers to be both happy and pleased with the products that we provide them with. In the case of Boeing their customers were pleased with the 737 MAX aircraft that they had purchased until two of them crashed in rapid succession. The cause of the crash was attributed to software problems with the aircraft and all 737 MAX aircraft have been grounded until the problem is fixed. This has created a difficult situation for the Boeing 737 MAX product managers because dealing with a situation like this is not a part of anyone’s product manager job description.

The Boeing product managers are facing a number of simultaneous challenges. They need regulators to approve the fixes to the 737 Max aircraft before they will be allowed to fly again and their airline customers may put off or pull up purchases. International regulators may not work together and so the aircraft may remain grounded in some countries for a longer time. Boeing has not helped their case by not cooperating well with the U.S. FAA regulator. After they get permission to start flying the 737 MAX again, the Boeing product managers are going to have to convince passengers to get on the planes. If the planes remain grounded during the summer months, then the airlines will miss out on the busy part of the year. Boeing may have to compensate the airlines for all of the money that they have lost due to the grounding.

The Boeing product managers are going to have to find out how long their customer’s memory is. Once the 737 MAX jets start flying again, they will have to determine if they are going to have to work harder to get people to fly on these planes. They may also have to work with the airlines to get them to use the planes and to buy more of the planes in the future. It is pretty clear that what used to be a simple job has all of sudden become much more difficult. The Boeing product managers will have a very clear understanding of what they need to do for next few years!

– Dr. Jim Anderson Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World Product Management Skills™

Question For You: Do you think that passengers will need special incentives to fly on 737 MAX jets in the future?

Click here to get automatic updates when The Accidental Product Manager Blog is updated.
P.S.: Free subscriptions to The Accidental Product Manager Newsletter are now available. It’s your product – it’s your career. Subscribe now: Click Here!

What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

Amazon is a large and powerful company that dominates the world of online selling. Walmart is a large and powerful company that dominates the world of bricks & mortar selling. These two firms are starting to come into conflict when it comes to next-day home delivery as Walmart starts to move into online sales and Amazon starts to move into home delivery. The product managers at Amazon are going to have to sharpen their skills and review their product development definition in order to go into battle with the product managers at Walmart.