Key Takeaways from the 2017 American Aerospace & Defense Summit

Earlier this month, I escaped the blustery New England Winter weather to attend the 2017 American Aerospace & Defense Summit in Scottsdale, Arizona. I was joined there by fellow SmartBears Justin Collier and Tim MacAdams to showcase Collaborator, our premier peer document and code review solution for companies that depend on quality.

At the Summit, quality and compliance were at the forefront. In a series of plenary sessions, leaders across the industry gave their perspectives on topics like lean manufacturing, continuous improvement, developing quality-driven cultures, cybersecurity, and macro trends in the industry. Here are some of the insights from the Summit that resonated most with what we are hearing across industries.

“Go Slow to Go Fast”

Allen Vyce, President at Triumph Aerospace Structures (Tweet this)

Allen Vyce, VP of Quality at Triumph Aerospace Structures, kicked off the Summit with a keynote on Tuesday morning titled, “Turning Passion into Profit: How Driving Operational Excellence & Investing in People will be the Best ROI in 2017”. Using Triumph’s Red Oak, TX location as the underlying case study, Vyce showed how creating a culture around the mantra, “Go Slow to Go Fast” led to a significant defect reduction month over month.

This culture was cultivated through a number of different initiatives. One tactic implemented at the Red Oak location was a coaching and mentorship program, which fostered continuous improvement in an organic way. Vyce advised not to just adopt a program like this, but to make it purposeful through frequent feedback and transparency. These mentors, or “change agents”, became more engaged leaders and were able to execute other programs more effectively. Vyce also spoke on the importance of recognizing hard work, which the Red Oak location actively does by regularly awarding “Star Awards” to exceptional employees.

“Continuous Improvement Means the Second Time Around is Easier”

Shubhayu Chakraborty, President of Performance Sensing at Meggitt

Shubhayu Chakraborty spoke later that day and discussed “Developing a Sustainable Lean Deployment Plan”. As part of his speech, Chakraborty highlighted a framework to look at Continuous Improvement (CI); including people, plan, process, and performance in an iterative cycle.  When you get better people, they will create smarter plans and processes, which will yield consistent performance that improves incrementally over time. High-performance teams attract high-caliber talent. In that way, a focus on continuous improvement builds momentum. To illustrate this, Chakraborty referenced the NFL and compared how the New England Patriots attract players (some of whom may even take a pay cut to join) compared to the Cleveland Browns, who have lost all 14 of their games this season and have historically struggled to foster talent.

“Create a Common Language to Create a Common Focus”

Dr. Alexander Eksir, VP of Supplier Quality at United Technologies Corporation

The Summit capped off Day 1 with a panel titled, “Altering Your Organization and Business Model to Stay Ahead in this Period of Exponential Change”, moderated by John Mack of FORCAM. As panelists, Allen Vyce of Triumph, Mike Perez of Lockheed Martin, and Dr. Alexander Eksir of United Technologies Corporation shared their perspectives on the rapidly-changing nature of the industry. When asked about some of the key challenges, Eksir commented that the “language that is used in production is broken.” As supply chains have shifted internationally, communication has become a major issue. One line of advise that stood out to me was Eksir’s recommendation that in order to create a common focus, you first need to create a common language. For example, by defining a defect in a universal way, a team can align and attempt to execute a Zero Defect Plan™. Said Eksir, “Zero Defect Quality is a quest. We may never achieve it. Recognize the challenge and celebrate the successes.”

“Cybersecurity Challenges Can’t Be Ignored”

Greg Maxwell, VP of Supply Chain Management at Orbital ATK

In a speech on cybersecurity and counterfeit parts, Greg Maxwell of Orbital ATK outlined the extent of the challenge the industry faces. Here are a few chilling statistics he referenced:

  • A cyberattack will hit your business in the next 24 hours.
  • The average time for a company to discover a breach is 201 days.
  • The United States is the top targeted country in the world for cyberattacks

In response to these pressures, Program Protection Plans (PPP) are now a required part of every DoD Acquisition Program. A PPP covers 6 key categories, from software assurance to cybersecurity to supply chain risk management. Because of the multiple tiers of suppliers, cybersecurity compliance has to be addressed at the supply chain level for the end product to be secure. Later that day, I sat in on a Lunch & Learn with Sue Vrzak, Director of Supply Chain for Northrop Grumman. She affirmed what Maxwell had introduced in the plenary session and noted that cybersecurity compliance would be a deal breaker for delinquent suppliers at the start of 2018.

How Peer Reviews Fuel Continuous Improvement

Whether you are trying to execute software assurance protocols, create a quality-first culture, or chase zero defect quality, peer reviews are instrumental. Nothing can replace a mentor, coach, or teammate reviewing another’s work. By leveraging our tool Collaborator, teams can build out review processes and workflows that are unique to their compliance and quality needs. You can then get reporting on your review process so you know how many defects you are finding in source code, design documents, requirements, or any other pdf document.

Chances are your teams are currently conducting peer reviews, but it might be over-the-shoulder or lost in an email thread somewhere. If you’re not thinking about peer reviews as a part of your quality and process improvement approach, your quality toolkit could be missing a critical capability.

Cashing Out On Quality

When the convention wrapped up, Justin, Tim, and I each still had a $10 voucher for the casino at the resort, Fort McDowell. As we walked between roulette wheels and table games, a logo on the bottom left corner of all the slot machines caught my eye: Everi Games, a long-time user of Collaborator (You can read their Collaborator case study here). After spending the week talking with leading Aerospace executives and customers, it was a great reminder that peer reviews matter for any organization that cares about quality, whether they are trying to launch rockets with flawless precision… or just empty your wallet.


If you are interest in learning more about Collaborator, you can schedule a demo or start a free trial today.

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