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Using Failure as a Springboard for Success

Using Failure as a Springboard for Success

C.S. Lewis once said, “You can’t go back and change the beginning, but you can start where you are and change the ending.” It’s something to keep in the back of your mind anytime you go out on a limb and take a risk, because you can always change your path.

In 2008, I led a team to design and develop a composite outer bypass duct for the HTF7500E turbofan engine. At program launch our team signed up for aggressive weight and cost targets on a tight schedule. We knew we were taking a risk to develop a new concept, but we also knew we needed an innovative solution to meet the customer requirements

Our team went into the process without a thorough understanding of the interface and assembly constraints, and without a clear understanding of the overarching supply chain strategy. The team iterated on the concept many times, and ultimately came up with an expensive but workable technical solution. Unfortunately, that solution had to be scrapped when the supplier we selected was blocked over contractual issues.

Our team was 10 months into a four-year program and had to start over. We were disappointed and disheartened.

While some may see this scenario as a failure, at Honeywell Aerospace our philosophy is, “failure can lead to success.” If employees are willing to take risks and have a fail-fast mentality – meaning take risks and recover quickly - the outcome is likely to be successful.

We didn’t have time to wallow – we had a schedule to meet. The failure had a galvanizing effect on the team. We regrouped and focused on the critical tasks required to recover the lost time. We developed a practical concept using conventional metal materials and laid out a preliminary design in only six weeks. We reached outside our established supply base to identify motivated suppliers capable of making the parts we needed.

While the final design was heavier than our initial concept, it was also significantly less expensive. The team was praised for delivering a significant cost reduction to the program, and we delivered the hardware in time to support the program schedule. In the end, the program was able to absorb the weight penalty and still meet the customer’s requirements.

The initial failure had a lasting impact on the organization. In the long run, this experience motivated us to reconsider our strategy for sourcing composite bypass ducts. We had pursued the design as “build-to-spec,” meaning we outsourced the design to a supplier. Our experience with a limited supply base motivated us to develop our own in-house capability – a capability we’ve just demonstrated with a prototype in support of our newest engine program.

I took this failure personally. When it happened, it was hard to swallow. But, it taught me that the best way to turn failure into success is to confront it head-on and take time to understand why the failure occurred. After nearly 22 years at Honeywell Aerospace, I’ve learned that nothing educates you faster than doing and failing. Scars are beautiful –wear them with pride.

Matt Greenman
Senior Manager, Project Engineering
Matt Greenman is Senior Engineering Manager for Propulsion Systems at Honeywell Aerospace Phoenix, Arizona.

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