The work stream teams were tasked to meet as frequently as necessary to maintain rapid progress toward the breakthrough goal. Some teams met on a daily basis throughout the breakthrough process while others met weekly or as needed. In addition, Turn Time Team co-leads Durst and Hammack fueled momentum and maintained coordination of the seven breakthrough teams by convening a weekly meeting attended by one union and management representative from each breakthrough team. Each week, Durst and Hammack asked, “Are we in Breakthrough?” The focus of each meeting was to share progress, consider implications for changes across teams, plan actions to address setbacks, and maintain a Breakthrough pace. Every team pair was challenged to keep their teams moving forward in a weekly cycle of rapidly prototyping ideas and concepts.
Early on in the process, members of the Flow Team visited Boeing’s 737 manufacturing facility in Seattle, where they studied how 737s are built on a moving assembly line. Shortly thereafter, the group of 170 determined that the best way to achieve their breakthrough goal was to design a “Pulse Line”, a variation of the moving assembly line, where an aircraft would move through 3 work areas on a 12-day schedule. As the Flow Team developed the core workflow for the Pulse Line, the other teams worked on creating processes and procedures to support the new concept.
On January 30, 2006, Tulsa launched production on the MD-80 Pulse Line. Prior to the Breakthrough Work Design®, it took an average of 24 days (actually 28 calendar days because no work was done on weekends) to perform a heavy check overhaul on an MD-80 and 700 people on 7 docks were needed to maintain the schedule of heavy checks for the MD-80 fleet. Once the Breakthrough Work Design was implemented, the time to overhaul was reduced to about 12 days with the schedule of heavy checks for the entire fleet maintained by 400 people in half the original hangar space, enabling AA to put valuable aircraft back into the schedule in half the time.
Collaboration pays off because Tulsa’s management and leaders of TWU Local 514 took the risk to collaborate, they preserved jobs and improved the airline’s competitiveness. Both the unit cost and turn time for the MD-80 fleet were cut nearly in half. There was an added benefit of creating new opportunities for American to compete directly with MROs that had once been the possible recipients of work outsourced from American. The 300+ mechanics, clerks, management and staff, and hangar space made available by the redesign became a new source of revenue for the airline, taking in work from a variety of other airlines. The Pulse Line and the addition of 3rd party work insourced from new customers were significant contributions to the goal set by Tulsa’s leaders to improve the operation by $500M, a goal they achieved at the end of 2006.3
It should be noted that while the MD-80 Breakthrough was the most visible significant contribution to AA Tulsa’s performance improvements, there were many other teams formed and initiatives accomplished in support of the base’s $500M goal. Teams across the base discovered and implemented improvements in everything from reducing turn time on engine overhauls to extending the useful life of drill bits. The ultimate achievement of the cost savings and performance improvements in Tulsa was possible because so many people, managers, staff, union, and non-union employees banded together to achieve a common goal.
In 2006 AMR posted a profit of $231 million. In 2005 the corporation lost $857 million. As Senior Vice President Bob Reding stated to the Tulsa Base employees on February 7, 2007 at the celebration of the Breakthrough accomplishment, "The successful accomplishment of the very aggressive breakthrough goal of $500 million in value creation in less than two years is proof that the concepts of working together and continuous improvement this company set in motion three years ago can achieve positive results for our employees, shareholders, and customers."4