Multi-Discipline Teams

A Fundamental Element of the Program Management Process


Showcase Project



C.G. “Jerry” King
Defense & Space Group, The Boeing Company, Seattle, Washington


The United States faces a major challenge in the ‘90s to sustain, and in some cases regain, prominence in worldwide market share for its products. To meet this challenge, we must get to the market at the right time, with a high-quality product, at a reasonable price. This means involving the customer early and employing a process for design, development, and production that is timely and cost effective. The use of multi-discipline product development teams can be a significant factor in achieving success.

The use of teams is definitely not a new idea at Boeing. The first airplane, the Model B&W, was developed in 1916 by a small team led by William Boeing. (See The Boeing Company, page 14.) Over the years, the company has employed a wide variety of teams to develop, produce, and improve its products.

What is new, however, is the use of multi-discipline teams as a fundamental element of the Boeing program management process.

A significant evolution of philosophy has occurred. The traditional management system used on developmental projects has been modified to one that encourages cooperative, multi-discipline teams, with membership that can change over the life of the program.

While we have not fully mastered this new program management methodology, we are sure of its value as part of our continuous quality improvement efforts.

Each new developmental project at Boeing is currently established with teams made up of individuals from each of the functional disciplines: Manufacturing, Engineering, Planning, Procurement, Quality, Reliability, and Maintainability. These multi-discipline teams are known by different names, including product development teams, integrated product teams, and design/build teams.

What they have in common is a cross-functional membership of skilled people who have been effectively organized and empowered to do a job, and who work using disciplined systems and processes.

During the past decade, an increasing number of Boeing projects have successfully used multi-discipline teams. These teams have obtained high product quality, while reducing cost and flowtime. The Hard Mobile Launcher (HML) (see related article, page 20) was one of the early Boeing programs to achieve success using multi-discipline teams.


The multi-discipline team is a group of individuals with a common goal: to develop a specific product or products. The team approach facilitates concurrent integration of specifications and design, together with plans for production, deployment, operation, and maintenance.

A successful team achieves an optimum balance between product performance, producibility, supportability, cost, and flowtime.

Because individuals from all the necessary functional organizations are present and working together, the multi-discipline team is able to:

  • Establish better relations with its internal and external customers.
  • Focus clearly on the product requirements and design.



  • Establish effective functional teamwork and cooperation.
  • Empower the participants to use their technical expertise for the maximum benefit of the program.
  • Enable participants to influence areas other than in their specific expertise.
  • Respond rapidly to design changes and other program or customer requirements.

In a larger sense, the ability to interface with internal and external partners is greatly enhanced due to heightened communication and cooperation.

This article discusses several key issues that are considered when using multi-discipline teams:

  • How teams are organized;
  • Team size;
  • Team authority and responsibility;
  • How startup and training are handled;
  • Location and automation considerations;
  • Team leader and member responsibilities;
  • Tasks assigned to the teams;
  • The roles of the customer, functional organization, subcontractor, and program management.


During the earliest stages of a new developmental project, the program manager goes through an organizational analysis to determine the type of team structure appropriate for the project.

At this point, the program manager is assisted by managers from the functional organizations that will ultimately staff the project. This initial program management team develops the high-level project organization and team structure based upon the scope of work and specific product characteristics.

The complexity of the program/product will directly affect the number of teams, how they will tie to each other, and the overall management/visibility structure.

Allocation of the systems-level requirements the project determine the overall team architecture for the program. The project or system can usually be broken down into subelements or subsystems. This work breakdown structure leads to the establishment of teams responsible for substantial and clearly defined portions of the overall product or system.

Each team focuses on development of the design, manufacturing, and support processes for a specific portion of the overall product. All systems, subsystems, and components may be effectively developed using the multi-discipline team structure.

Rescoping of the team hierarchy may be needed as the project moves into different phases (design, production, delivery) or as new requirements surface.

The Comanche RAH-66 is an example of how multi-discipline teams have been used during the competitive demonstration/validation phase to win the contract and subsequently to manage the program.

The traditional functional organizations coexist with the multi-discipline team process. The functional organization provides standardized processes, infuses new technology, and allocates the skilled resources necessary to staff the program.

The integration of multi-discipline teams is extremely important to the overall success of the program. In turn, how this integration is accomplished is directly influenced by the complexity of the program itself.




The RAH-66 Comanche is an advanced twin-turbine, two-seat, armed reconnaissance/attack helicopter. In April 1991, the U.S. Army selected an industry team led by the Boeing Defense & Space Group and United Technologies' Sikorsky Aircraft Division to begin the demonstration/validation phase of the program. First flight is planned for the latter part of 1995.

The Comanche program is central to the Army Aviation Modernization Plan. It is intended to replace older helicopters that are tactically and technologically obsolete and increasingly expensive to maintain. The aircraft is a highly agile, composite helicopter whose airframe, dynamic systems, mission-equipment package, and weapons systems are being designed to operate with and complement the AH-64 Apache heavy attack helicopter.

Boeing is responsible for integrating the Comanche avionics system, electronic flight controls, and mission-equipment package. Boeing also is building the main rotor blades, FANTAIL, and empennage and has overall responsibility for aircraft support.



During the competitive technology demonstration phase, small design/build teams were used to design the antitorque system—an important distinguishing feature between the Boeing-Sikorsky helicopter and that of the competition.

The objective was to construct, demonstrate, and evaluate the new FANTAIL—all within only 16 months. The use of small teams for the coordination and timely resolution of open issues paid off in minimum flowtimes.

Today, the early design/build teams have been renamed product development teams. Approximately 30 of these groups are creating the RAH-66 Comanche prototype.




(Left) Wind tunnel tests are conducted to corroborate engineering estimates on stability, control, and performance after the AWACS rotodome has been added to the 767 airframe

(Left) Wind tunnel tests are conducted to corroborate engineering estimates on stability, control, and performance after the AWACS rotodome has been added to the 767 airframe.


The 767 AWACS is not a classic developmental program in which a new product is designed and developed. Rather, it is an evolutionary program that takes the existing Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) mission equipment that was delivered to several customers on a modified Boeing 707 platform and installs it on a modified Boeing 767 airplane.

Currently, the 767 AWACS program is in the concept design phase of integrating the two existing systems.

Multi-discipline teams are being used for the design and production concept of the integrated system.


The program uses product development teams to enhance the integration of the AWACS mission equipment and the Boeing 767. A better product is ensured by bringing functional disciplines together early in the design phase so they are involved in producing the complete product.

The heavily lined boxes in the chart demonstrate how the product development teams have been organized around the two systems that require some modification to complete the integration. Oversight is provided by the PDT Council of the program's senior managers.

(Above) 767 AWACS Product Development Team Structure

(Above) 767 AWACS Product Development Team Structure.

The Interiors product development team illustrates the use of multi-functional teams to modify existing system configurations.

The team is chartered to develop the conceptual design for the 767 interior, including modifications to transform the passenger configuration into one that supports the mission equipment.

This team is comprised of members from both the Boeing Commercial Airplane and Defense & Space Groups. Team leadership is currently provided by the member from the Commercial Airplane Interiors Design organization. The team includes representation from Human Factors Engineering, Industrial Engineering, AWACS Mission Equipment Design, Materiel, and Manufacturing.

As the program matures, the team will continue with final design activities, manufacturing planning, and incorporation of any subcontractor involvement.

(Right) The 767, being offered as the next generation AWACS platform, offers 50 percent more floor space and twice the cabin volume of the earlier 707

(Right) The 767, being offered as the next generation AWACS platform, offers 50 percent more floor space and twice the cabin volume of the earlier 707

The F-22 program (see related article, page 21) is an excellent example of how teams can be organized to successfully manage the design and production of a complex product. This program illustrates the use of hierarchical integration teams to eliminate duplication of effort, enhance cross-team communication, and ensure overall system performance.

Team Size

Specific project requirements determine specific team membership. A deliberate effort is made to limit the number of individuals on a team to only those needed to accomplish the necessary tasks.

Experience has shown that teams operate most effectively with 30 or fewer members. Regardless of size, the team usually contains at any given time a core group of four to six members. As the product evolves, this core group changes to support the current focus.

We have found that communication and decision-making are much easier and cooperation is enhanced in smaller teams.

If a team needs a larger membership, it may be more effective to divide the group into subteams to obtain optimum efficiency. Again, this arrangement is dependent on the particular project and its specific needs.

Authority And Responsibility

To function successfully, each multi-discipline team is given the authority and responsibility to complete assigned tasks. In general, the team itself has the authority to commit to schedules; assist in the allocation of product requirement; develop designs; manage procurements; and develop plans for fabrication, assembly, test, and delivery.

Delegating authority and responsibility to the multi-discipline team is fundamental to instilling project ownership in all team members.

The team is responsible for understanding interdependencies with other teams and for working related issues. To avoid isolation, it is productive to conduct regular reviews, not only between teams and the senior program managers, but also among the teams.

Accountable to program management, each team must strive to meet schedule and cost commitments for the total program to be successful.

Program management ensures that team activities are consistent with the overall program plan, while functional managers ensure that team members have appropriate processes and tools. In addition, program management is responsible for removing barriers that inhibit team success.

Accountable to program management, each team must strive to meet schedule and cost commitments for the total program to be successful.

Program management ensures that team activities are consistent with the overall program plan, while functional managers ensure that team members have appropriate processes and tools. In addition, program management is responsible for removing barriers that inhibit team success.

Startup and Training

Before establishing each multi-discipline team, charters and processes are determined and documented. The program management team develops a training plan that ensures all program members are familiar with the program and the team concept.

At this stage, it is essential to provide training to both team members and leaders as a unified group. Such training establishes a common understanding of the team's mission, roles, and responsibilities and further promotes project ownership. Subjects discussed with new teams include characteristics of effective teams, conflict resolution, effective meetings, teamwork styles, stages of team development, and member roles and responsibilities. Sessions on active listening and consensus building are vital.

Also critical is a presentation by the program manager explaining and discussing the team's charter, role in the program, and operting rules. A dialogue with experienced, successful team members reinforces the training.

The most important benefit of providing early training is that the team is ready to begin working—with a commitment to the project and a common understanding of what is expected and of its function in relationship to the overall program.

Location and Automation

Communication is at the heart of the multi-discipline team. People simply get together to share knowledge, work to a common plan, and prevent problems. To facilitate constant communication, co-location of team members is preferred.

When teams are based at the same location, members are better able to work concurrently. Rather than applying skills separately or sequentially, members share knowledge of a product or process at the same time, based on the same information.

A key benefit of this type of working environment is that designs can be evaluated from multi-functional perspectives to ensure producibility, cost effectiveness, reliability, and maintainability.

On several programs, a shared digital design process enables teams to create a common database for all elements of the project. Engineering, Manufacturing, Procurement, and other team members use digital workstations to access the design.

This sophisticated computing technology further enhances team-to-team integration to eliminate potential problems early in the design/ development process.




The 777 is a new wide-bodied, two-jet engine aircraft from the Boeing Commercial Airplane Group. Intended to meet airline demand for a jetliner sized between the company's 767-300 and 747-400, the Boeing 777 will be the world's largest twinjet when it enters service in 1995.


One of the principal goals of the 777 program is to demonstrate an improved process for designing and building airplanes—a process that improves the quality of the end product. Central to this process are constant customer participation and the multi-discipline team.


From airlines to passengers, pilots to mechanics, the customer has helped size, shape, and launch the 777. That involvement started in 1986, when the Commercial Airplane Group began assessing market preferences.

The intensive customer dialogue also led to a consensus that many items traditionally offered as optional or special-request features should be standard equipment on the 777. About 80 such items are basic to the airplace, including satellite communication and global positioning systems. This reduces variability during design and production, while providing the airlines with a more economical equipment package.


Under the design/build concept, each team is responsible for a section of airframe or a major system and is staffed by experts from all the diverse disciplines in the airplane development process, including engineering, production, procurement, maintenance, and customer support. From the beginning, customers, suppliers, and subcontractors also have regularly participated on 777 teams.

All of the more than 230 teams have access to a communication and visualization tool that is enabling the 777 to be 100 percent digitally designed.

The 777 design/build teams use more than 2,000 computer workstations in the Puget Sound area of western Washington to design the new twinjet. Supporting these workstations is a cluster of eight mainframe computers, which are linked to workstations in Kansas, Pennsylvania, and Japan.

The computer application is an interactive communication tool that allows the various disciplines to work on the airplane design concurrently, rather than sequentially.

Benefits of the design/build team approach include:



  • Improvements in design quality, resulting in fewer engineering change orders during early production;
  • More reliable and efficient processes because design is done concurrently;
  • Reduced manufacturing costs because all involved disciplines have integrated the parts prior to production;
  • Decreased scrap and rework.

As of this writing, the 777 design/build teams are on schedule and have achieved firmer design configuration earlier than on any past airplane program.

Team Leader and Member Responsibilities

As with any team effort, the success of the multi-discipline team is dependent on the leadership displayed by the team leader and the team members.

Leadership within the multi-discipline team may rotate among the members as the product evolves through its life cycle. This way, the functional discipline with the most expertise and responsibility in a particular area can better facilitate that portion of the project.

Whether appointed by program management or selected by the team, leaders should possess well defined teambuilding skills and have credibility with their fellow group members. On most teams, the leader is responsible for:

  • Overall team performance;
  • Team staffing requirements;
  • Representing the team at program reviews;

The primary duty of team members is to bring their specific skills and functional processes to the team. In addition, there are underlying roles that every team member must fulfill:

  • Actively participate in the team effort;
  • Take ownership of the team's goals and objectives;
  • Be accountable for product quality;
  • Make functional decisions and commitments.

Each team member has the capability and authority to commit resources and is responsible for maintaining a link between the functional disciplines and the team. This link allows teams to draw upon the resources of the company, when required, and provides visibility of project progress to both functional and program management.

On a successful team, the leader and members have an immediate free flow of ideas, are responsive to cost issues, facilitate faster solutions to problems, and quickly see the implications of proposed project changes.


Multi-discipline team tasks correspond to the deliverables for which the team is responsible. In general, a multi-discipline team is charged with the complete design and development of a specific portion of the overall program.

The team participates in the allocation of product specifications, task definitions, and deliverable data items.

Team deliverables and inter-dependencies are identified and coordinated with other established teams to ensure project integration of efforts and to eliminate task overlap.

The team is responsible for all scheduling activities and develops and releases product drawings, manufacturing plans, associated documents, and data items. The team ensures that all requirements (reliability, maintainability, human factors, producibility, safety, etc.) are incorporated in its product output.

The multi-discipline team develops and reviews procurement action; establishes the subcontractor statements of work, specifications, and data requirements; and participates in the source selection process. After selection, the supplier or subcontractor joins the team. The level of participation in these activities varies with project requirements.

As the program progresses, the team also develops and releases plans for fabrication, testing, and delivery.

The team activities discussed above are representative of developmental programs. The 767 AWACS program, however, is an excellent example of how the integration of two already existing, proven products is being accomplished through the use of multi-discipline teams.



Boeing was the prime contractor for the Hard Mobile Launcher program (HML). HML was a missile transportation and launching system that consisted of a separable tractor and a missile module designed to withstand most nuclear strikes.

Although the end of the Cold War led to termination of the program, the achievements of the HML teams have been incorporated into the Boeing multi-discipline team concept.


The program initiated multi-discipline teams, called product development teams, in response to customer and corporate goals. Management attention was focused on stated Air Force expectations that were communicated to the Boeing program staff in all-hands meetings, senior management staff meetings, and weekly program reviews.

Customer requirements were reviewed and refined in regular monthly Air Force program management reviews.

The HML product development teams:

  • Improved cross-functional communication;
  • Involved support organizations early in design development;
  • Included Manufacturing, Quality Assurance, and Procurement Materiel personnel in the development process;
  • Delegated responsibility and authority to the level that could best realize innovative and cost-reducing solutions;
  • Established a quality program based on design-in/build-in, not inspect-in quality.

The results speak for themselves:

  • Errors in engineering drawings were reduced;
  • Production labor costs fell by over 30 percent.
  • Hardware was 99 percent defect-free, resulting in the need for 80 percent fewer quality control inspections.
  • Total program flowtime was reduced by 30 percent.

Role of the Customer

“Aggressive listening.” That is the term one Boeing executive recently applied to the company's commitment to working with customers to ensure product satisfaction.

It is the customer's requirements, the customer's expectations, and the customer's vision of quality that multi-discipline teams strive to achieve.

Helping identify and refine product requirements are among the vital contributions the customer makes. On some programs such as the 777(seerelated article, page 18) and the F-22, the customers have been extensively involved from the beginning of the program.

Whatever the specific role, it is clear that extensive customer participation aids the delivery of a superior, cost-effective product.

Role of the Functional Organization

The functional organizations provide the personnel for the multi-discipline teams. In essence, they are the centralized staffing function since they provide skilled employees to the program and continue to provide training and support while the employees work on the teams.



THE F-22


The U.S. Air Force F-22 air superiority fighter is under development as a replacement for the F-15, developed in the late 1960s. This program is an extensive effort to incorporate the best technology of the last 30 years into a new fighter aircraft.

Lockheed, Boeing and General Dynamics formed a partnership in which all program risk, cost, work, and profits are shared. This team won the F-22 Engineering and Manufacturing Development contract following a competitive demonstration/validation (prototype) program.

During the prototype phase, it became clear that neither time nor budget would permit development in the conventional, functional manner.

The complexity of having three companies involved, as well as the complexity of the system itself, led to the use of integrated product teams by and among the three companies.

The specific strengths of each company are being tapped to support the program. The Boeing contribution to the program includes development and production of the F-22 wings, aft body section, training systems, support system, and portions of the avionics system, as well as test and evaluation management.


Together, the Air Force/tri-company F-22 team must manage a technology mobilization that draws on the resources of 26 major subcontractors in 15 states, and 650 suppliers in 32 states, with a system structured to reduce both risk and cost.

The complexity of the program prompted the creation of a project environment that ties together program products via a highly integrated system of multi-discipline teams. The main components are the integrated product team (IPT) and the analysis/integration team (AIT).

The F-22 weapon system divides into four major products: air vehicle, training system, support systems, and test and evaluation.

The four products are further divided into subproducts to be developed and produced by the IPTs at the team level and within the member companies.

Each IPT acts as a “miniprogram,” with involvement of each of the functional organizations required to develop that specific program product. The IPT is responsible for all activities associated with the design, development, production, test, delivery, and support of its assigned product, including elements supplied by subcontractors.

Members of this F-22 integrated product team are developing the tooling concept for manufacturing composite sine wave wing spars. The team includes (left to right) Kirk Skaggs, tooling engineer; Suzanne Hoza, buyer; Dane Norgard, structures! design engineer; Stacy Manolakas, stress engineer; Nathan Haass, stress analyst; and David Durick, structures design engineer and team coordinator

Members of this F-22 integrated product team are developing the tooling concept for manufacturing composite sine wave wing spars. The team includes (left to right) Kirk Skaggs, tooling engineer; Suzanne Hoza, buyer; Dane Norgard, structures! design engineer; Stacy Manolakas, stress engineer; Nathan Haass, stress analyst; and David Durick, structures design engineer and team coordinator.

Giving each IPT control of its budget leads to a total commitment from everyone on the team.

Co-location results in teams that are closely knit and work effectively together. Because members are aware of issues daily, they can reach consensus earlier and are able to respond to situations more rapidly.

Ensuring that team members are empowered to make decisions for their functional disciplines achieves faster action on program situations. The central functional disciplines operate as service organizations only. They provide personnel, technical assistance and consistency in processes.

Functioning at all levels to tie together the efforts of the IPTs, the AITs define, allocate, and verify requirements for the four product areas. They provide top-level analysis and integration of system components, data, configuration activities, and hardware and software interface controls.

The AITs act as the “glue” between the IPTs by ensuring system interface, configuration, and integration control. IPTs that require assistance in preventing a problem work with the AITs to achieve their objective.


A unique twist to the multi-discipline team concept is the close relationship maintained among Lockheed, Boeing and General Dynamics. It is essential to the success of the program that the same open and cooperative communication expected of the individual company IPTs also exists within the tri-company team.

Through cross-company IPTs, computer-aided design and manufacturing technologies, computer networking, and secure video teleconferencing systems, the team is able to maintain quality interfaces with all F-22 program participants.



The functional organizations also establish, maintain, and provide proven processes and systems for these programs to use. For example, an engineer who arrives on a team with extensive knowledge and background in the engineering function and its work processes can immediately contribute to the team's success.

When centralized functional organizations provide qualified personnel and processes, developmental program management can concentrate on developing and producing the product or system, knowing that skilled employees will be available.

Role of the Subcontractor

In cases where design and development are subcontracted, the subcontractor becomes a member of the team.

The buyer from the Materiel function is a member of the team making the procurement and is responsible for managing the contract. The team ensures the appropriate flowdown of requirements and provides the multi-discipline oversight for integration of product elements. The subcontractor is encouraged to also use the multi-discipline teamapproach for design and development.

Role of Program Management

The program manager provides overall leadership. The effective use of leadership makes multi-discipline teams truly successful.

The program manager leads the management team in establishing the overall team organization and structure, selecting the multi-discipline team leaders, providing team orientation and training, and ensuring an open participatory program environment.

While maintaining overall responsibility for the program, the program manager is expected to establish an environment where significant authority, responsibility, and decision-making are placed in the hands of the multi-discipline teams.


Based on our experiences in the last few years, we have found that multi-discipline teams can contribute to lower cost, reduced flowtime, and higher product quality.

While there is no standard organizational structure for the multi-discipline team or for its interface with the functional organizations, the use of multi-discipline teams in any form dramatically enhances cross-functional cooperation and communication.

Each project has its own unique size and complexity. In fact, it is the flexibility to adapt to special situations that makes the multi-discipline team applicable to an almost limitless variety of projects.

Although every multi-discipline team possesses unique characteristics, certain attributes are essential. Each team should be as small as is practical for the program; possess sufficient authority, time, and money; know and accept assigned roles; understand its relationship to the other teams; follow accepted rules of behavior; and have an effective leader. Most important, every member should actively support commonly understood team goals.

At The Boeing Company, we are continually enhancing our understanding of the role that multi-discipline teams can play on new programs. We are committed to refining this program management approach for future applications.



C. G. “Jerry” King is executive vice president of the Boeing Defense & Space Group. He serves in the Office of the President with Group President B. Dan Pinick.

Before his appointment in 1991, Mr. King was executive vice president of the Military Airplanes Division. He previously led the Boeing command, control, and communications programs for the U.S. Air Force, NATO, and Royal Saudi Air Force.

He also managed the Roland short-range air defense system, the Multiple Launch Rocket System (MLRS) program, and the Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) program.

Mr. King joined Boeing in 1958 as a design engineer. He holds a bachelors degree in mechanical engineering from New Mexico State University and has completed advanced management programs sponsored by Boeing and the University of Michigan executive development program.


Reader Service Number 109

Reader Service Number 109

AUGUST 1992 pm network



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