Leading Rockwell Collins’ Lean Transformation

author: Clayton M. Jones, Rockwell Collins, Inc.
published: Aug. 7, 2012,   recorded: April 2006,   views: 2923

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“When we began our Lean journey,” recounts Clayton Jones, “it was mostly an act of faith, with doubters and cynics in every corner.” Now, after 11 years engaged in a top-to-bottom streamlining process, Jones declares, “There is no single initiative I’ve pioneered and pushed at Rockwell Collins that has contributed more to the success of the company than Lean…”

The Lean Aerospace Initiative, a research program headquartered at MIT, aims to transform the aerospace industry by applying best practices at all levels of a corporation. Jones was one of its early adopters, and now an ardent advocate. “We were one of the first to recognize the need to eliminate waste throughout the enterprise,” says Jones -- from engineering to finance to human resources.

Jones describes other emphases of the Lean approach at Rockwell Collins, including moving faster and more efficiently in their various operating environments. He describes how Rockwell “broke the cycle of designing solutions before the requirements were adequately captured -- a cycle that usually ends in waste and general aggravation.”

Educating and rallying corporate leaders to the streamlining cause was painful. Many Rockwell staff felt overworked and resistant to new methods. “We learned that heads nodding up and down didn’t necessarily signify agreement with what you’re teaching,” says Jones. At times he wondered, “Are we bringing the organization to its knees or transforming it to the breaking point?” Jones determined that “Bend but don’t break was my mantra through the whole thing.” He’s happy with the results to date: increases in sales from $1.7 billion in 1997 to $2.5 billion in 2005, and all time highs in product on time delivery and customer acceptance rates.

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