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|Plan for project success||Wesley J Parfitt, CEO, EnvelopeAPM Inc.||View article|
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Plan for project success
Author: Wesley J Parfitt, CEO, EnvelopeAPM Inc.Subscribe
MRO software project planning – implementation and beyond. Wesley J Parfitt, CEO EnvelopeAPM Inc.
In the Spring 2012 Edition of AircraftIT, in my second article about planning for project success, we looked at ‘MRO IT Project Management – Project Initiation’, (page 30 of issue 5) in which we discussed the basic framework of project initiation and how this practice is utilized during the implementation of an MRO software. This is a continuation from that second article and the original article on page 36 of issue 2. You’ll remember the five process groups in project management include: Initiation, Planning, Executing, Controlling and Project Closing. In this third article in the series, we’ll focus on project planning and the activities involved during this phase. This is not high level detailing, I am simply hoping to lay for you a foundation of some thoughts so that you may take away and apply them in your respective work environments.
Perhaps we should start with a quick reminder that Project Management is the application of skills, tools, knowledge, techniques and project activities in the processes required to successfully undertake a project. A project is a temporary endeavour. This means that it has a definite beginning and end, and creates a unique product or service.
Points to consider during the project (MRO software selection and implementation)
Project management principles are universal: if you are tasked with the adoption of new MRO software, a few important matters need to be considered. To ensure successful implementation of the MRO software package, project management principles should be followed. Of course, each operator is unique and there are numerous MRO IT products available; but project management principles are universal, so if the principles are followed correctly, your implementation will be successful regardless of the operator or the MRO IT product you have selected.
Establish the business issue or business opportunity
We first must identify and establish the business issue or business opportunity. The need for a new MRO software package is an example of a business issue or opportunity. A feasibility study should take place, investigating all possible solutions to the identified business issue/opportunity. If we cannot define the issue we cannot define the project going forward: it’s as simple as that.
Defining the project planning phase
The project planning phase is the formalized process which must include and respect the following components: agreement between the executive sponsor and project manager; project purpose; business and project goals and objectives; scope and expectations; roles and responsibilities; assumptions and constraints; quality management approach; and project management approach. Each of these components provides us with a framework which makes up the overall ‘project planning phase’.
The right time
Projects are always desirable and generally someone will be pushing for them to happen immediately. The key is to examine whether the project is right for the present time and situation. An analysis must be done to see what projects are already in place and how the initiation of another may impact them or vice versa. Many operators tend to already have too many projects in place and it is almost impossible for them all to succeed. Since all projects require access to limited or even scarce resources, it is vital that each project has a clear reason for existing. So management needs to ask, is this right time and situation for the project?
Clearly define the budget scope and continuously communicate
All MRO’s and airline engineering departments struggle with determining the costs of their MRO software implementations. An accurate, defined, and agreed-upon budget helps organizations set clear expectations and allows for efficient managing and implementing of the Maintenance and Engineering (M&E) software.
Before planning an implementation, one of the first steps is to define the budget scope. Include significant stakeholders in this process – people in the organization who have a major stake in the project or its outcomes – to help you develop the criteria for defining the budget scope. Once the budget is developed, communicate the budget to and continue open discussions with your stakeholders throughout the life of the project. Time and time again I see the budget planning stage overlooked which, in turn, has a dire effect on the implementation of the MRO software.
The importance of raising issues and asking questions, especially about the budget, cannot be emphasized enough. Ask questions that help in clearly defining the scope of the activities. Ask questions such as, “what will or what won’t be included in the budget..?” “Will in-house resources carry out the implementation..?” “Will outside consulting firms be required to support the implementation?” Ask about equipment storage, new employee compensation, training, travel expenses, conference attendance, office and clerical supplies, audit costs, consultants costs, hardware purchasing and network costs among others.
Strategic planning is critical. Strategic planning involves careful examination of current aircraft and maintenance business processes. Establish an information flow: set clear, concise objectives and identify major milestones. We must develop a project plan and then assign a project team. Assigning a project team involves the inclusion of employees from Engineering, Aircraft Records, Systems of Maintenance, Aircraft Program Managers and senior management. Each member of the team should be committed to the success of the project and be accountable for specific tasks, i.e. developing timelines, finalizing objectives, formulating a training plan.
Make sure that first line workers, such as aircraft records data entry controllers, hanger floor engineers, as well as management, are included on your team. Examine current business processes. Have the team perform an analysis of which business processes should be improved on. For the analysis, gather copies of key documents such as work orders, work wards, batch label tickets, invoices and purchase orders. To start the team discussion, consider the following:
- Are your procedures up to date?
- Are there any processes that can be automated?
- Is overtime being spent in processing work order or job cards or the entry of flight logs?
Conduct interviews with personnel in which the aim should be to uncover areas in need of improvement.
Discuss and set objectives, remembering that the objectives should be clearly defined prior to implementing the MRO software solution. MRO software systems are massive and you won’t be able to implement every function. You’ll need to define the scope of implementation. Ideally, the scope should be all inclusive. But practically, that would be very difficult to implement. Examples of objectives would include:
- Does the solution reduce backlogs?
- Can the solution improve on-time deliveries?
- Will you be able to increase production?
A good strategic plan starts with a good discussion.
Scope planning has to be part of a written document. Scope definition is the subdivision of the major deliverables into more manageable units. Activity definitions determine specific tasks needed to produce project deliverables. On many occasions, scheduled activities have inherent dependencies, resource limitations, date constraints, etc. that all need to be considered when outlining how project work aligns in the form of a defined project schedule. The project schedule links schedule activities together in a manner that creates a timeline of work throughout the project’s life. Schedule activities that need to be conducted early in the project, or are depended upon by other tasks later in the project need to be performed at the appropriate point in the project’s life cycle to accommodate such dependencies.
During the practice of activity sequencing, the project manager aligns the scheduled activities in a way to best avoid factors that may limit how quickly project work can be completed. To facilitate this effort a project manager may use project scheduling tools, such as Microsoft Project, or advanced sequencing techniques using various diagramming methods and/or applying scheduling leads or lags to individual tasks. The ultimate goal is to structure the sequence of scheduled activities in a way that completes the project as quickly as possible. Contained within all schedules is a critical path. The critical path is the series of tasks that determines the duration of the project. The tasks on the critical path are often scheduled tightly; upon finishing one, the next immediately commences. In other words, there is no slack between critical tasks, and so if one task slips, the entire schedule slips. Understanding and effectively managing the schedule’s critical path is vital to completing a project as planned. Core activities to define the planning include activity duration estimating; determining the amount of work needed to complete the activities and schedule development, analysis of activity sequences, duration, and resource requirements. These are factors that require significant thought as part of your core planning.
The project plan
The project plan is the foundation for all efforts associated with the project. This document is generally very fluid with continual changes taking place over the course of the project. The master plan contains all pertinent information driven by the project, and becomes a template for the actual work break down structure or activity sequence which evolves with the project. The plan should define the technical approach to the project at large, i.e. the MRO IT solution implementation. It will define the sequence of events and identify the deliverables and milestones associated. It should include and capture activities and processes including… data transfer, such as the import of the aircraft logbook, component register, parts database, AD/SB’s (Airworthiness Directives/Service Bulletins), component templates or masks and the MPD (Maintenance Planning Document) or planning documentation, etc. The project plan should also be where we establish and determine dependency between tasks, estimate resources, undertake tasking scheduling and, finally, define the processes.
The planning process must include risk identification – determining what is likely to affect the project and documenting these risks. It must also include risk quantification – evaluating risks and interactions to access the possible project outcomes. In the context of project planning, risk refers to any factors which could have an effect on the successful completion or close of a project or a factor that may affect a deliverable or milestone within the project. During the planning phase, a risk management plan should be included with summaries indicating approaches to identifying, analysing, and evaluating risk. Some risks may be identified and added to project budgets and, as part of the plan, it may include a process to mitigate the risks and include strategies to deal with them into the master plan. It’s important to think through the project lifecycle and identify risks.
In terms of facilitating processes, think about establishing the order of events, which means delivering a clear Scope Statement and develop the Work Breakdown Structure (WBS), finalize the team, establish a Network Diagram, and estimate time and cost. Thinking this through will clarify and facilitate each process.
Develop a ‘war-room’
A team ‘war room’ provides a great place for teams to gather and work as cohesive units in planning for and implementing maintenance and engineering software. Finding a designated team space where employees and consultants can meet helps isolate team members in an environment where they can focus on the project tasks at hand. Having a dedicated space also saves time in finding locations for teams to meet and provides a common area for documentation, supplies, and critical project information.
War rooms vary in size and set-up and in some cases may simply be a wall where all project assumptions, milestones and a master schedule are visible to all the team members. A war room or wall such as this also can be beneficial for ‘outside’ visualization meaning other employees or stakeholders can have a quick visual on the project.
Clarity of role and responsibilities
Hold a project kick-off session to set and align expectations, clarify roles and responsibilities and allow team members to bond and have their questions answered. Include the project sponsor to ensure visibility and involvement from the outset. Create ‘role impact guides’ so end users clearly understand how their roles will change, and reinforce specific benefits. Your team members are much more likely to buy-in if you can answer the ‘what’s in it for me’ question. You must plan for these questions and be prepared to respond to any concerns and queries.
Strategy building and communicating
Strategy building and communicating the overall strategy is one of the most critical events when implementing a MRO software upgrade or implementation. The strategy is to facilitate the buy-in and involvement of the rest of the organization. Like successful implementations, MRO software upgrades require the active participation and support of many parts of the company. Developing a strategy document that explains the reasons why periodic upgrades are necessary and lays out the time frames of the next several projects will encourage an internal dialog and allow for financial and resource planning. An MRO software upgrade or implementation strategy must be actively sold to the organization.
Most people don’t understand why something that costs so much to buy and deploy needs to be changed and upgraded every few years. It may appear that the company is paying a lot of money to fix things that weren’t done right the first time. An important aspect to the implementation strategy process is getting a critical mass of employees to understand why a replacement for the MRO software is a normal part of the product lifecycle. Maintenance and engineering software systems are typically implemented in phases over several months or several years. The phases may represent groups of modules, business units, geographic locations, or some combination of all three. M&E systems implementation strategy needs to be positioned as a continuation of that approach, with new phases every three to five years that respond to inevitable changes in the business requirements and incorporate improvements in technology.
The important thing is to help everyone understand that the purpose is to allow the company to have a modern, up-to-date information system without having to buy a new one every few years.
Plan for and identify required consultants and the associated costs
In my opinion, it is impossible to successfully implement an MRO system without expertise, either internal or external. Software vendors will obviously supply resources for implementation however, it’s important to remember that these companies are interested in their own mandates more than yours. The customer, i.e. you, should have a champion outside of the vendor such as a consultant or an internal subject matter expert to facilitate a more effective implementation not only from the vendor’s side but also for the point of view of your business. MRO software purchases typically include, in the purchase price, consultant costs for installation. Usually this arrangement includes consulting up to a certain number of hours. Other products will add costs for installation or for installation certification. Be careful regarding self-installation with no certification from the vendor. Support for the product will always be in question when the installation is without certification. Include all of the potential consultants in your budget, and remember to be prepared for their arrival so you can maximize their productivity while on site.
Things to think about include internal resource planning (identify what and how many resources are needed to perform the activities), cost estimating (develop resource and total project costs), cost budgeting (allocating project estimates to individual work items) and project plan development (taking results from other planning processes into a collective document).
Planning for organizational changes
Before the software can be put into place, the MRO business or airline must determine what organizational changes, business process improvements, and technology updates are in scope for the project. This means evaluating the existing software application or portfolio of software to determine if there are any existing applications that can be eliminated or replaced by functionality in the new MRO system.
MRO software implementations: factors for failure
The last points are factors that can lead to failure. Here are some examples: lack of planning; unclear vision; goals and approach not aligned with vendor/service or provider incentives; schedules; other program priorities and other resource responsibilities; incomplete, unclear and/or changing requirements; lack of executive and internal company support and commitment; insufficient resources dedicated to the project (staff, time, money, participant involvement, project management and IT support) and unrealistic expectations for what can be accomplished and how quickly.
Another factor that can lead to failure is to believe that the vendor or service provider will assume responsibility for all tasks. This is a large contributor to failure; so remember that you are generally dealing with sales people; they may give you a good ‘Sell’; however, in the end, the expectation of the deliverable from the software company is generally less than that being given to the customer. Do not expect the software vendor to supply a fix for your operational problems. Obviously replacement software is expected to deliver considerable improvements to the efficiency of the operation; however, without your internal organizational process in place, managed and accepted, the replacement MRO software will be a failure. Equally, without clear internal process improvements, acceptance and without an internal support network the implementation will also be a failure.
In conclusion, good planning is critical to successful project delivery and successful MRO implementations. Successful project management is an art and a science that takes practice and above all correct guidance and training.
Continuing on with our theme in the next issue we will discuss project execution.