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Customer Collaboration Opportunities 

GE Aviation February - June 2014

The Summary:

The CEO of GE Aviation posed the question “How can we improve our customer relationships using UX and how can we communicate the value we provide to our customers?”.  Our newly-formed UX Center of Excellence team set out to find an answer for him.  It quickly became clear that it was enough work just to explore this question with one customer, who shall be referred to now as Customer. Hence the research question was scoped down to read “How can we improve the relationship between GE Aviation and Customer, adding value to both parties?” 


Background information about the business relationship was gathered from Customer across a range of touch points. Topic areas in need of more investigation emerged as did suggestions for mutual improvement/benefit. We used sets of Site Visit interviews to deep dive on these and other topics, the data to generate a Journey Map of the engine lease lifecycle, and the insights to support a 3-day Design Thinking workshop.

We collaborated with Customer in the workshop to focus in on the highest priority topics, their related processes in the Journey Map, and the merged list of opportunity areas to co-create solutions to concerns like data sharing and forecasting.


The Issues:

  • Corralling a large set of stakeholders across GE and Customer and balancing everyone's concerns about reputation and relationship. 

  • Remaining objective while exploring a relationship with a regrettable past. 

  • Ensuring that our Journey Map was comprehensive, given the many sources needed to document the processes.

  • Overcoming the historically reactive responses between GE and Customer, often resulting from missing or decentralized data needed to support a discussion.

  • The constant workshop pivoting and steering done in real time to address evolving and changing priorities and various customer concerns.

Methods Applied:



Customer and internal Site Visits

Design Thinking Workshop

Primary Role:



Co-led field research data collection, interview moderation, and data synthesis

Co-facilitator of workshop activities 


  • Design Director

  • Design Researcher​

  • Aviation Product Manager

  • Facilities Manager



  • Detailed comprehensive Journey Map illustrating the leased commercial jet engine lifecycle, all potential maintenance and repair flows, and the points where issues and impediments arise

  • Resolution and agreement on sharing of specific data sets, previously withheld, for mutual benefit. 

  • Ongoing discussion around the IT, network, and application mechanics for sharing data across environments.

  • Fruitful, highly collaborative workshop that delivered beneficial, targeted, mutually-supported solution ideas to alleviate pain points.

Research Details

Site Visits - Design Thinking Workshop

1 Internal and Customer Site Visit Interviews 
Conduct interviews at customer sites and with internal line-of-business experts. 

Background information from Customer revealed a significant amount of controlled chaos in many areas. We needed to gather more details on their conflicts and pain points and we also needed to understand more about all the possible circumstances affecting the relationship -- defined by the commercial jet engine leasing lifecycle. For this, we needed enough data on various processes to establish functional domain expertise. We also explored the relationship using the lens of business drivers. Much of the current experience may simply be driven by potentially opposing business drivers such as 'reliability', 'availability', 'cost', 'margin', 'profitability', and 'revenue'. Participants left us with some thoughtful suggestions for how to work together to create mutual value. 


25 interviews were completed in total: 

  • 13 interviews with Customer. We heard about what’s working well and what could improve

  • 12 interviews with GE Aviation counterparts. We heard their perspective on Customer’s comments

Assortment of diagrams resulting from the interviews


Value theme:

The places where business customers look for value in a partnership may not always be where it is being provided. From GE Aviation, for example, Customer looks for value in the following areas: 

  • Engine price: A better value for the premium cost?

  • Engine durability: Where are the short term value demonstrations (monthly reviews, quarterly profitability)? Contracts only show it over the life of the product.

  • Engine contracts: Why does Customer assume the risk for servicing leased engines?

  • Engine servicing: How valuable is GE’s premium engine maintenance to Customer? 


Meanwhile, GE Aviation has focused on communicating their value focus in Briefing Notes to Customer, emphasizing there how problems have specifically been addressed. Unfortunately, the detail in these notes does not currently have a way to roll up to the executive levels at Customer. 


Data access/sharing theme: 

Other cases also highlight data access issues, both within and between business IT environments. It’s a complex puzzle to unravel the chain of events that resulted in the server network your business has today: 

Which servers hold which set sets? Between which servers is data shared? Which servers are secure and why? Which servers store the data related to my business inquiry?  

Often, it is concern over data ownership that prevents sharing. Both GE and Customer collect engine configuration data but they don't currently share what they have with each other. This is despite the fact that it would simplify their collaboration to manage Customer's fleet and provide a more complete picture of engine performance.


This was a theme we wanted to carry into the workshop: Where can compromises be made to permit data access/sharing, or to create sharing platforms for the same purpose, that creates shared benefits? 


We approached data synthesis with care and rigor, partly to make sure specific terms had consistent meaning across the interview set. For instance, ‘availability’ was a term that meant something different at first to Customer than it did for GE. Interestingly, consensus was later reached in the workshop that this was the ultimate value in the relationship for both GE and Customer. 

Our dedication to the synthesis process ensured that both company perspectives were represented in the workshop artifacts and the consolidated list of solution opportunities.

Synthesis in action

The data all fell into 4 top areas of concern.

  • data sharing and forecasting: where there is value in aggregating engine data for fleet-level and industry-level forecasting

  • engine repair turn times: where poor shop performance has resulted in repair delays and lack of communication on status

  • workscoping and repairs: where disagreements occur around when/how to repair an engine and low levels of flight-worthy spares has serious consequences on Customer's planning operations.

  • invoicing: where customers can feel 'nickle-and-dimed' over details of their service contracts and amendments. 

We cannot discuss the customer business relationship without understanding the business processes happening under it. So much so that we collected enough detailed information to create a complex Journey Map of the engine lease lifecycle. Each process stage maps to one of the four top areas of concern and includes the customer interactions, collaboration principles, business drivers, data sharing needs, and opportunities.


The map covers the following lifecycle stages: service contract option, build engine forecasts, monitor engines, engine event occurs, assess and scope work, watch | customer on-wing repair, take aircraft out of service, removal: GE shop repair, ship: resume operations, invoicing, end of contract, and end-of-life. Therefore it's impossible to display the journey map in its entirety with adequate resolution without employing a viewer. Portions of the map image in the file below have been redacted or cropped out altogether, but it should still give you a sense for the structure and presentation of content for the artifact. 



2 Design Thinking Workshop
Take a design-led approach to exploring opportunities for addressing the issues uncovered in the research

Participants from both GE Aviation and Customer joined User Experience for a 3-day workshop to review the summary research

findings, prioritize which topics to address under each area of concern, and co-create feasible solutions that could be driven forward.  Attendees from the UX team took turns facilitating, distributing artifacts for activities, managing media capture, and 

driving consensus on action items, next steps, and assigned owners

Workshop activity sequence 

  • reviewed research findings: brought back the original 4 areas of concern as containers for the 16 topics that emerged, walked through the key interactions of the journey map for the engine lease lifecycle and their business drivers

  • prioritized topics: favored those of higher customer value and with more pain associated with it

  • focused discussion (engine forecasting & data sharing): agreed that engine configuration data is the highest priority, identified data sources from both sides to support it, and picked out a storage option on 'My GE Aviation'

  • created actions: located where all of the data for the solution currently resides, chose point persons for the data, and elected a joint GE Aviation and UX planning team to carry the effort forward

The solution opportunities that the research participants shared in their interviews were consolidated in the list below for reference in the workshop and when additional topics are eventually reviewed.  Although the workshop process encourages wild ideas, the list is also a nice additional reference point to help get started with brainstorming.  Also, opportunities could take many forms: design additions/changes to a product, new tools to co-create shared knowledge with proprietary data, or a new business process. 

Solution Opportunities

  • One process/one team. Support collaborative teams across companies in making joint reports

  • Simplify our processes to make GE sticky, easier to work with.

  • Take our IT tools to the next level.

  • Better communication. Shop records for engine status to customers. Invoice status. Secure web chat.

  • Sharing data and files. A common, secure GE/United portal for signed contracts, technical programs, meeting minutes

  • Mobile apps that fit with how people work today

  • Provide and communicate increasing value: Fast access to KPIs, Elevate wins to upper management.

The solution with the lowest hanging fruit and garnering the most attention toward the end was "myGEA GEM (Global Engine Maintenance)", an engine configuration solution hosted by GE that will merge the engine data collected by both companies, give them both full access, and ultimately simplify the current fleet management process. Right now they are both making decisions about engine configuration and coordination that very well may be different once they have easy access to and can work from the merged data set. The data requirements for the engine configuration data elements were hashed out by a breakout team and the initial storage location was chosen on 'My GE Aviation'. 

Workshop photos

© 2017 by Peter Roessler.

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