787 Dreamliner: Cleared for Take Off?

authorsVitaliano Fiorillo, Raffaele Secchi and Silvia Zamboni, SDA Bocconi School of Management, talk about their case series on the Boeing 787 Dreamliner.

The future of air travel and air-liners envisioned by Boeing after the market shock in 2001 was based on the assumption that, with emerging markets growing and large hubs saturating, point-to-point long hauls would have dramatically increased. In this scenario, while Airbus was embracing an opposite interpretation of the market developing the A380, Boeing opted for the development of a super-efficient mid-size, wide-body plane under the name of 787 Dreamliner. The project was presented as a game-changer in air travel. This case series focuses on the development of the controversial Boeing 787 Dreamliner.

Why Dreamliner?

The aviation industry has always been characterised by very large projects and incremental innovation. With this project Boeing intended that the Dreamliner be as innovative as the invention of the jet engine. This opened a wide window on how radical innovation and supply chain management were key to the industry and presented an opportunity to develop a case highlighting the innovation approach on different aspects (strategic, technical, organisational, and the new relationships of the different players along the supply chain).

Developing the case

We initially developed one case but after the first experiences of teaching it, and as we required flexibility for the several courses we’re involved in (executive, MBA, graduate and undergraduate levels), we decided to split the case in to a three part series. Dividing the case in this way made the risk management issue much more relevant. It also forced students to answer the assignment questions for Part A with the limited information available, as in a real situation. Part B and C of the case then add unexpected events that oblige participants to review the decisions they suggested in part A.

The main challenge we encountered during the case development process was finding reliable data from reliable sources. There is a low level of disclosure within the industry and it took a long time to gain a clear understanding of what really was going on and what the managerial implications were. We used a combination of different sources to allow us to discuss and reach an overall picture of the main criticalities on the project and the subsequent suggestions for the managers that will read the case.

SDA Bocconi School of Management has an internal peer review process for all cases submitted to The Case Centre so this helped ensure that our case meets high quality standards and that it is methodologically ‘bullet proof’.

Teaching the case

Shaping the case as a succession of events has created a very flexible tool, adaptable to any course length and environment. The chronological evolution of the project replicates the unexpected events encountered during the project, and allows instructors to comment the risks associated to the choices made by the company based, as in reality, on limited information.

The case encompasses a broad range of issues creating an analytical continuum from strategy and product innovation to supply chain design and risk management. While giving students the opportunity to revise and apply core concepts of strategy, innovation and supply chain management, the three part structure allows discussion and self-assessment of the understanding of the case as it develops from one part to another. It can be used both as a wrap up case in supply chain/innovation management courses, or as a follow-through case when introducing to supply chain/innovation risk management. Depending on the audience and time available in class, colleagues can ‘customise’ their discussion to focus on the key aspects they want to stress.

787 Dreamliner

Engaging students

Familiarity with the 787 project helps students engage immediately with the case. That the project involved radical innovations in technology, business strategy, product concept, production methods and supply chain relations all at the same time also helps create a lively discussion.

With such a promising project and the company at stake, students immerse themselves in the challenge, critically analysing opportunities and threats of a game changer in product development and supply chain management. The dynamic competitive environment of Boeing (despite the fact that the business segment is almost a duopoly) forces the students to weigh each decision, keeping in mind that every action has a reaction from the competitor and both the business and the end customers. 

Advice for case writers

Do not get caught by the rush to publish: follow the story until you have a complete understanding of the subjects you can develop, this will create a real value adding teaching object. We went through many revisions of the case until it captured the key learning objectives we wanted it to deliver on our programs.

Case details

787 Dreamliner: Cleared for Take Off? Part A
Vitaliano Fiorillo, Raffaele Secchi and Silvia Zamboni
SDA Bocconi School of Management 
Ref 613-006-1
787 Dreamliner: Cleared for Take Off? Part B
Ref 613-007-1
787 Dreamliner: Cleared for Take Off? Part C
Ref 613-008-1
Teaching note

Ref 613-006-8

About the authors

Vitaliano Fiorillo is SDA Assistant Professor at the Operations and Technology Management Unit, SDA Bocconi School of Management, Italy. vitaliano.fiorillo@sdabocconi.it

Raffaele Secchi is Head of the Operations and Technology Management Unit, SDA Bocconi School of Management, Italy. raffaele.secchi@sdabocconi.it

Silvia Zamboni is SDA Professor at the Operations and Technology Management Unit, SDA Bocconi School of Management, Italy. silvia.zamboni@sdabocconi.it

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