Continuous Improvement Leaders: Boeing's Jason Casebolt, Pt. I

January 28, 2021

by Tom Lemoine

Jason Casebolt is a Production System Quality Leader for The Boeing Company. In addition to holding advanced degrees in law and engineering, Jason earned his Lean Six Sigma Green Belt, Black Belt, Master Black Belt, and Design for Six Sigma certifications from Nexus. Since we first spoke with Jason in 2019, he has taken on a new role at Boeing, returned stateside, earned prestigious recognition for his work, and pursued even more professional education. Here is Part I of our recent conversation.

After leading an improvement team in Malaysia, Jason (third from left) has taken on a key role in Boeing’s 737 / P-8 programs.

Q: Since we last caught up, a lot has happened in your professional life — including a new position that brought you back to the U.S. after several years abroad. Can you tell us a bit about your new role?

A: I am certainly glad that 2020 is behind us, and there is optimism that 2021 will see the end of this global pandemic. After our conversation at the end of 2019, I completed the remaining requirements for the U-M Nexus Master Black Belt in Operational Excellence Certification while I was still the Expatriate Director of Quality at Aerospace Composites Malaysia (ACM), one of Boeing’s joint ventures. Only as a coincidence, my family and I moved back to the United States last year on March 9th — just as COVID was expanding quickly in the country.  

Upon returning, I have been fortunate to have been able to use my skills and experiences to be improving the factory quality of Boeing’s 737Max and P-8 Poseidon commercial programs. Essentially, I am the Lean management system’s quality and improvement leader responsible for architecting and deploying strategic and continuous improvements within the factory. 

Q: What do you like most about the position?

A: My favorite aspects of this role involve taking the successes that I had in Malaysia and scaling them on a bigger stage. Many of the fundamentals are similar, including A3 problem solving, standard work, leader standard work, visual management, and sorting through troves of data to leverage better performance insights. The difference is that the stakes are much higher now that finished aircraft are the end product (as opposed to composite parts and assemblies). 

Q: What takeaways or lessons learned from your leadership experience in Malaysia did bring back to your new role stateside?

A: Working with the great team at ACM was the best experience of my career, both for being amazing to work with, as well as giving me the freedom to drive change. As soon as I arrived in temporary living there, I started taking online classes for the U-M Nexus Lean Six Sigma Green Belt Certification (Manufacturing track). As I learned fundamentals from the course, I applied them to the company almost immediately. This continued through my subsequent studies in the U-M Nexus Lean Six Sigma Black Belt and Master Black Belt courses. In fact, if you look at the different syllabuses for each of those programs, that was essentially one of my playbooks for driving improvement at the company. Being able to take all of the curricula, concepts, and cross-industry examples from those classes — and then immediately deploy most of them within a factory — provided more learning and professional development than I could have ever been exposed to under normal circumstances.

Shifting to specific takeaways, there are three that stand out the most: system focus, fundamental focus, and practical focus. From a systems-thinking standpoint, I improved my ability to see through the day-to-day fire-fighting that comes with the job to still find a way to prioritize strategic and continuous improvements to the quality and improvement system, so that the size of the recurring problems becomes smaller and smaller. Next, I gained the focus to relentlessly pursue fundamentals — to either fill in gaps to the system, or strengthen aspects of the system that were already in place. Perhaps most importantly, I developed a heightened understanding for how the practical application of all of these pieces either leads to breakthrough performance, or where small cracks in the practical application can subtly undermine the success of these efforts.

‘Get to Gold’ was a finalist for the 2020 Aviation Week Program Excellence Awards.

Q: How can organizations avoid those “cracks” in their implementation efforts?

A: I often refer to the efforts and actions to make the practical implementation successful as a “chiropractic adjustment.” So many companies have the standard portions of their continuous improvement systems in place (many must to be certified to ISO 9000, AS 9100, or similar); therefore, it is not the absence of these fundamentals that leads to some of their performance challenges. Instead, I believe it is the practical translation between concept and reality that is the culprit. Just like going to see your local “chiro”, addressing these target areas by prescribing small, practical adjustments can lead to healthier operations. 

Q: In addition to your accomplishments with Boeing, you were named one of five finalists for the 2020 Aviation Week Program Excellence Awards – Special Projects category. Your project, Get to Gold – Eliminate Quality Escapes, also won the 2019 Boeing Chairman’s Quality Award. What was the project about?

A: ‘Get to Gold’ really was so special to be part of. The project was launched to relentlessly reduce defects being passed to customers by combining systems thinking, problem solving techniques, data science, and some great teamwork from across the globe. We achieved over an 80% decrease to quality escapes and related quality costs in less than two years. 

My personal approach to this endeavor was to tackle our biggest headache with a company-wide DMAIC project. In fact, ‘Get to Gold’ was my final project for the U-M Nexus Lean Six Sigma Black Belt Certification. Beyond improving performance and earning my credential, I am proud that the project earned this level of enterprise and industry attention — particularly for all of those that helped out as part of the project team.   


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