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‘Less is more’: MRO Software Implementation at FL Technics
Author: Ramunas Paskevicius, Head of IT Unit, FL TechnicsSubscribe
‘Less is more’: MRO Software Implementation at FL Technics
Ramunas Paskevicius, Head of IT Unit at FL Technics explains and shares an experience of the ‘less is more’ approach to MRO software implementation
If asked, it seems that only a minority of MRO organizations would claim to have implemented an IT project on time and in budget. To confirm that, we only have to refer to the latest Gartner report on projects implementation which tells us that around 65% of IT projects which are worth more than $1 million fail… for various reasons. With this sobering thought in mind, FL Technics decided to investigate the roots of such failures in order to learn from the costly mistakes of others. From that knowledge we understand that prior to any major IT implementation project we need to do some preparatory groundwork by developing a new environment with a different attitude in the team. With a greater degree of involvement and self-motivation on the users’ part to support the IT implementation project, there is a chance to get everything right from the first attempt.
Looking for a new MRO system
FL Technics has been in business for more than 20 years. Having started from one small hangar, today the operation is a global one-stop-shop maintenance provider with MRO centres across Europe and Asia Pacific. And it is the pressures of that success that has motivated the search for a new IT solution because the current system does not allow for further business expansion or for the business to achieve greater efficiency. Having decided to make the change, our next consideration was to determine the main criteria we should apply in order to ensure that the correct solution was selected. We analysed the vendors, asking them what levels and types of support they offered, what were the prices, how would implementation be managed; in fact, all of the questions that any potential customer would ask of a vendor. But we also asked ourselves whether buying a ready solution from an established developer is the only key to a successful implementation of an IT system.
As is often the case, all the discussions were mainly conducted at the top levels of management, up to CEO, CTO, CFO, etc. The top management was also expected to decide what an engineer or a supply manager should use. But at some point we realized that only the users themselves and their pro-active involvement into the implementation process would ensure some fruitful results. With that in mind, we established a project team which included competent people with initiative who would develop a solution they themselves would be willing to work with and for which they would continuously share ideas for improvement.
Planning for a strong implementation
However, again, we had to consider the key things that would help to successfully implement the project because, even in that 35% who told Gartner that they had managed successful implementations, some would say they were lucky. In reality, even if, before starting the project, there is a very good plan with deadlines and a clear understanding of what resources will be utilized, everything might seem good but once the project starts, some obstacles will certainly appear and some challenges will be encountered. The team has to think how to cope with them and, behind that, there are going to be the people who will be expected to work with the system and who will no doubt have many questions and doubts.
Understanding this, our priority was first to bring these questions into the open. So, before we began, we looked at some cases, not specifically from aviation but from IT more generally, to see what have been, for others, the root causes that lead them to choose the wrong vendor for their own projects. Was it the system, was it the platform; what was it that caused a project to stray from the path that had been expected and planned for?
Involving the whole team
In order to address this challenge, we asked a man in our business process department who is responsible for process optimization to summarize what he thought could cause a project to fail. He shared an interesting observation that, while the leaders of the business (CEO, CTO,CFO…) can see ahead, the people on other levels of business, even though they might be very loyal employees, cannot always see the same way since they are too closely engaged in pushing the business forward from behind. In other words, those at the front of the business will set the course while the people in the business will do the work to push the business along that course but might not have the wider knowledge of the business’s goals, will not have the view ahead. As a result, they cannot really offer any ideas that might make things work better, might make those goals more readily achievable.
So it seemed to us that one key to a successful specification and implementation is engaging all of the people on the team and leveraging their understanding, gained from doing the job every day, to inform some changes in processes. Our challenge was to find a way to engage all the people in the business to work as one team with the management. It doesn’t matter whether it’s the CEO or a mechanic; we needed them all to work together to ensure the project’s success.
There is a short story which clearly illustrates this way of looking at things, using the story of two men working in a field; one is digging holes while his colleague follows behind filling them in. A passer-by stops and asks them what are they doing? To which they answer, “We’re planting a forest.” The passer-by thinks for a moment before asking, “Where, then, are the trees?” “Ah,” says one of the workers, “My job is to dig the holes and his is to fill them but the other chap who puts trees in the holes didn’t turn up for work today.” This is a light-hearted way to explain what happens when you simply ask people to follow instructions without fully explaining to them the purpose of what they’re doing and the what is expected to be the result of their efforts. If people have enough of that sort of information then they might be able to contribute, “Don’t let us waste time digging and filling holes if the man who brings the trees isn’t here!”
At FL Technics, we decided that the best plan would be to work with all of the people involved in the business. We have tried to encourage every employee (regardless of his or her position) to be self-engaged in the process, to reject indifference and, at the end, to understand that an initiative or an idea will be always welcomed by both direct and top managers.
Small solutions, quick results and an understanding of change
First of all, we thought it would be a good idea to give the people in the team an opportunity to participate and to give them a tool – a sophisticated system perhaps – but we were not sure whether that would work. So we started in a very small way. In some cases we used as simple a tool as MS Excel, in other cases we wrote a small in-house program but whichever we used, the idea was to get people to think about small steps that would help to improve their work processes right away and to ‘feel’ immediate results.
What we achieved can be explained using what happened in parts supply in the hangar. We undertook an investigation to discover how our staff went looking for parts they had ordered. They first went to the warehouse to ask whether the parts had arrived, which often lead to them being told to check at the ‘incoming inspection’ department from where they were all too often sent to the procurement team… it meant that somebody could spend a large part of their day just looking for parts they had ordered. This was something that we wanted to change and so we undertook what we called our ‘low-hanging apple’ project. It only took a couple of weeks but, in that time, we created a small IT solution identifying what was the root cause of the time taken to find parts, solving the problem and getting feedback.
The whole idea was to make people think how to improve their own work and we were pleasantly surprised when one of our mechanics drew a workflow diagram to help us understand what was happening. We didn’t then just tell him to ‘do it this way and it will work better.’ Instead we asked him, “What can we do that, in your opinion, will make this work better?” He told us; and the IT Unit took about one week to specify what we had to create and about two weeks for the programmer to write a small solution that helps mechanics to check parts. They can now scan the work order to get a list of the part numbers and their status – information not previously available on the system.
Most importantly, after a few days, all 300 mechanics were using this small app on their own initiative without any need for a push from management. The secret of its success is simple – people know how the app works, what it is for and the direct benefits it offers users. Most importantly, people feel a certain sense of ownership, because the app was designed specifically for them; and they started offering own ideas on how the functionality of the solution may be improved.
Perfection of an imperfect solution
Of course, there are a few more questions that we have to ask ourselves with this type of small solution…
- How do we manage system version control?
- How do we integrate the small solution with our current ERP system?
- What about support and maintenance?
- And how do we arrange a process for bug fixing?
We thought about all of these questions but then decided not to do anything about them as the small solutions, like the parts locator, were only ever planned to be temporary; just to get people engaged in the project and to start thinking about the results that we were looking for and to prompt them to think about how to bring about improvements. It’s true that the application is not a complete solution and it doesn’t solve all of our problems. But, we have now about ten of these small temporary solutions and we’re happy that, from an IT perspective, from the beginning of the year, from starting to do these things, around 30% of change requests have come from the mechanics, which is an increase over the previous situation. The reason for that improvement is because mechanics can see and benefit from immediate results with some solutions taking as little as two days.
Moreover, we’ve modified the first (parts location) project twenty times since that first version with just the two fields mentioned (parts number and status). Now we have added new fields to allow mechanics to check more information about parts but still all in one place. And the cost was not prohibitive at about €2,000. Most importantly, it allows us to engage our employees in all departments and at all levels in the business. They contribute their ideas for ways to improve the system; they push the company for improvements; they feel responsibility for the system’s improved performance and they care whether it works correctly. These are small solutions, delivered in a short time and offering immediate and noticeable results. And, because the ideas have come from the people doing the jobs, their understanding of how to do things better has evolved with the system. It is not our intention to replace the entire IT system with a package of small solutions but this project has prepared people for the bigger changes to come, it’s a part of our change management process.
Embedding change in the business culture
We will discard these temporary small solutions once an all-embracing new solution is implemented. In the meantime, our team will get used to changes and improvements as well as being involved in the change. They will become familiar with more advanced IT solutions and maybe even welcome them rather than resisting the change because it takes them away from their comfort zone… in fact, their new comfort zone includes specifying and leveraging the best results from a new solution. They know what can be gained from change and how to manage it. This, in turn will give us a smooth lift when we are ready to shift to a new system.
It all fits in well with FL Technics determination to be a LEAN company where the people in the business are engaged with change and willing to accept change; where people pursue improvement and, most important where everything is open and transparent. This will also be useful for vendors when we approach them because we at FL Technics will have a much better idea of what we want to ask and will be able to more easily specify those requirements.
In short, it is our firm belief that employee engagement is most important at all levels in the business and, if there is no employee engagement, it’s rather like having an aircraft without fuel, just standing there, not going anywhere and certainly not flying. So, if it is powered with greater engagement, it will be more successful. This is how we’ve gone about the process at FL Technics and we believe that it will make our selection and implementation of a new system better informed and better aligned to the real work that our people undertake.
Change management is often a challenge but what about getting people used to change by asking them to initiate small changes themselves? Here is a case where that way of thinking has already paid dividends.
Ramunas Paskevicius, Head of IT, FL Technics
Ramunas Paskevicius has 15 years’ experience in IT and has developed a number of solutions for different industries, including MRO, finance, HoReCa, public sector, etc. Since 2011, he has lead IT development, integration and worldwide support at FL Technics. He has a Bachelor’s degree in Business Administration and Management; plus a Master’s degree in International Trade.
FL Technics is a global provider of aircraft maintenance, repair and overhaul services, and one-stop-shop aircraft maintenance solutions from Base Maintenance facilities in Lithuania and Indonesia, as well as Line Maintenance support across Europe, Asia Pacific and the CIS. An EASA Part-145, Part-M, Part-147, Part-21 certified company, as well as a Boeing GoldCare Program partner, FL Technics currently services a wide range of Boeing, Airbus, ATR, Embraer and other types of aircraft.