Aircraft IT MRO – Summer 2011

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Aircraft IT MRO – Summer 2011 Cover

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White Paper: A Discussion on Project Management

Author: Wes Parfitt, CEO and Founder, EnvelopeAPM Inc.

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A discussion on Project Management


Wes Parfitt, CEO and Founder of EnvelopeAPM Inc, outlines a framework for successful MRO software implementation.

As an MRO IT software consultant and project manager, I focus on successful implementation of MRO M&E software using project management principles. Project management is a broad topic: this article will look into the basic framework of project management and how this practice is utilized during the implementation of MRO software. It will also cover important points to consider before and during an implementation.

Before we can discuss the management of an implementation, we must first understand the definition of project management. In the future we can discuss the framework, consisting of process groups, knowledge areas, and component processes and how they relate to MRO software implementation.

Project Management

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 endeavor: it has a definite beginning and end, and creates a unique product or service. The five basic process groups of project management include: Initiation, Planning, Executing, Controlling and Closing.

Project Process Groups – Overview

When looking at a project life cycle we work through the above five processes with the first being project initiation. At this stage, a business issue or a business opportunity is identified; for example, the need for a new MRO software package. A feasibility study should then take place, investigating all possible solutions to the business issue/opportunity. Next, the scope and the sponsor (either an individual or a committee) of the project will be selected. A full analysis of the new MRO software will be established with a description including a detailed list of required functionality with deliverables: this is the time to establish goals and objectives for the new MRO system. Structuring of the project will take place during initiation and the project management team will be identified. This team may be from internal resources or an internal PMO (project management office), or may be an outsourced project management firm.

Once the initiation phase has been completed along with the project scope we can look towards the project planning phase, creation of the project plan, resource plan, financial plan, quality plan and risk planning. We then move to the execution phase which is generally the longest part of the project. This is when the deliverables of the project are completed with actual project delivery and implementation. During this phase, we build the deliverables, and monitor, control and manage time, cost, change, and risk. It is at the end of the execution phase that a final review is carried out to confirm that the project has met the objectives outlined in the initiation phase.

Following the completion of all project deliverables and the final acceptance of the project closure by the customer, i.e. the operator, a formal project close should take place. Activities that should be visited during this time will be to identify any outstanding items, producing a formal hand over to the customer environment, cancelling supplier contracts and releasing project resources internally and externally as well as communicating the closure to all stockholders of the project. Finally, documentation recording lessons learned should be finalized at post implementation and presented to the project sponsor.

Following best practices in project management will ensure that your organization completes a successful project. Remember that a successful project requires having a clear roadmap that will support finishing on time and on budget with all the required deliverables being met. This roadmap will ensure that you stay on track during the course of the project.

Fig 1: What the project management team must do at each stage of the process

Points to consider during the project

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. 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 and the MRO IT product you have selected.

Defining the problem:

Before starting the selection process, it is important to precisely define the problem you are trying to solve. Are there specific businesses processes you need to systematize or are there best practices you need to adopt? Do you need to shorten processing lead times or reduce extensive paper shuffles or is the legacy system simply no longer being supported? Are there requirements of specific quality programs or regulations to which you must adhere? And, perhaps most importantly, how will solving these problems pave the way for the operation to be successful with the newly implemented software? Project management isn’t a simple task and requires much work and knowledge. Without a grasp on the project direction, you simply will not succeed in the delivery. MRO IT systems cost a great deal to implement and you definitely do not want to find that you have gone through the expense for nothing; so be sure that you have defined the problems identified and to be overcome with the induction of a new system.

Investments needed:

For successful implementation to take place, a certain number of investments are required. It requires an investment of financial resources, time, and staff. Other important points are enthusiasm, determination, decision making, planning, execution and continuous improvement.

The right time:

Projects are always desirable and generally someone is always 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. It must be determined that the present time and situation are right for the project and whether the existence of this project might effect the success of another.

The project manager – the right person for the job:

One of the major factors in predicting success for any project is selecting the right project manager. Project management is both a science and an art. It is more than planning and project execution, involving maintenance of schedules and budgets plus requiring considerable project management skills. This is where the project manager comes into play. For a project to be successful, the project manager must have the backing and support of upper management, and that can sometimes be tough. If the project manager wants to please everyone, he/she is not the right person for the role. The project manager ensures that the deliverables are met regardless of whose toes he/she needs to step on to get the job done.

Upper Management:

Upper management cannot afford a loose involvement but must be actively involved during the implementation process. Support from top management will allow for a more seamless implementation because they are responsible as key stakeholders and so should play a pivotal role at the initiation stage. Should they be only partially involved or not involved at all, their lack of involvement will lead to delays and eventually, to a failure of the implementation. With the backing of top management, quick decisions will mean less delay, ensuring a smooth implementation process.

Costs:

Another important aspect to consider is project resources, specifically costs. Project resources should be adequate to complete the project. Too often when resources are being allocated, the true costs are not accurately calculated missing the hidden costs. Hidden costs, when not taken into account, will lead to out of control finances which, in turn, can mean project failure.

People:

Insufficient resources and an insufficient number of team members will also play a major role in the project’s success. A lack of resources or insufficient resources required for the MRO software implementation will lead to failure or serious problems in achieving the project objectives and milestones. The system needs proper infrastructure and resources for its successful implementation. To avoid errors in implementation and to ensure a smooth process, there should be sufficient resources available. Choosing the right people and the right team is a key contributor to success. Team members must all possess the necessary skills and must be willing to be involved in the project. A project will not work with team members who do not want to be involved or do not see the long term value of the new MRO software. The right people will be enthusiastic about the project. No matter how enthusiastic a team may be, it is generally not possible for members of teams to carry on with their day to day activities while also implementing the new MRO software so additional internal or external resources are usually required.

Once a project starts to fail because of lack of manpower, it is difficult to negotiate for the additional time and money which will be necessary to ensure success. A commitment to enough manpower resources must be settled upon before starting the project implementation. A complete resource analysis should be carried out in the initial phase to justify the expenditure and need.

With respect to the implementation and possible success of your project, you may additionally need to identify other external resources such as facilities, equipment and managerial staff. These resources are a major cost and will impact the budget. Failure to identify outside resource costs could place a considerable burden on the project; however utilization of outside specialists or consultants may reduce this risk.

Lack of understanding:

Over a decade working with MRO software projects, I have found that one of the most difficult challenges for implementation is the lack of education and understanding of MRO software. The other main challenge is a limited knowledge of the true scale of a product implementation from operators and upper management.

Development of methodologies:

There are several ways for assuring project realization and success.  We can do this with the development of methodologies and quality processes that are now considered standard. Despite the existence of standard methodologies, projects still fail because companies do not have them in place in the organization as policy. You must set in place your company project management methodologies. Without them, projects undertaken in your organization simply have no foundation for success.

Selecting MRO IT:

Implementing an MRO solution is a difficult practice. It is important that the organization makes the correct decisions when selecting the best MRO IT for their purposes. Consideration must be given to projected growth, geographical locations, long term abilities and the investigative factors when selecting the MRO IT package. This practice is difficult for typical MRO facilities that simply have limited exposure and knowledge about the MRO IT environment selection process and bench marking the required deliverables.

Whether you are working with a consultant or your internal PMO or simply the engineering department heads, the more detailed an idea you have going into application selection and then implementation, the more likely you are to choose the best application for your purposes and to have that application configured to fit your specific needs today and in the future.

Excess customization:

Excess customization and multi-location implementation can have an effect on the system. Many modern MRO systems allow for some customization, however too many alterations to suit the requirements of the business outside of the initial intended use can and will cause issues if the product is customized to fit the organization and not the organization to fit the product. The risk is that the software will have too many alterations which can change the software totally and result in project failure. A little customization is helpful but too much can lead to errors in the implementation. Initially, it is best to allow the software to operate off the shelf; then, only after running-in, production and a gap analyses, implement the required customizations.

Project failure:

Often companies that implement MRO IT systems have only a vague notion of what deliverables they want to see from implementation of a new system, and this is really where companies should focus their attention. With this, we should look at project failure and how to overcome improper management and execution. Most aviation software implementations have a terrible implementation record as do software implementations generally for that matter. A study by PwC (PricewaterhouseCoopers) concluded that “half of all projects fail, and only 2.5% of corporations consistently meet their targets for scope, time and cost goals for all types of projects” – www.pwc.com.

Why do software implementation projects fail? There are lots of reasons such as poor sponsorship, weak reporting and communication and a lack of management leading to improper control of the project. Other reasons for which projects fail include poorly defined objectives, poor planning, continued utilization of old technologies, lack of project management methodologies and utilizing poorly trained or inexperienced staff with insufficient levels of knowledge. The number one reason for failure is that project managers often fail to set a clear direction for the project. Without a clear direction, their projects suffer scope creep, cost overruns and delays.

Training:

Extensive training programs need to be given to users to overcome implementation troubles. The users of a newly implemented MRO IT software must be given sufficient time to understand the new system and get used to it. They should be allowed more time to learn the system logically as well as being provided with opportunities to work through complete system workflows perhaps with small workshop scenarios prior to the ‘go live’ phase. The initial investment of time and support for new users will give greater returns into the future operation of the system. Allowing department heads and users to be involved with the workshop scenario creation will allow for local users to become ‘Super Users’.

The new system should be made as easy as possible to learn; when we look at training programs we must look at the benefits, advantages and value of trained and knowledgeable staff, as they are the foundation for MRO software implementation and future operations. For the greatest return on your investment with your system, users must fully understand the software capabilities. Training must focus on technical and non-technical aspects. Training programs should be defined for each level of user. For example, senior managers may need training on a broader level compared with an operator who may need training on analytics and reporting aspects of the system. Different training approaches and styles may need to be made available as not all individuals learn the same way.

The best approach for training delivery is a rolled-out approach over a specific period of time. This allows for comprehensive learning without overly taxing the students. Also, use the latest technologies available for delivery; available technologies include video blog, web based, and computer based. Other training styles include classroom, web application format, printed materials, on the job, and e-Courses.

One of the most important factors for continued successful use of the MRO IT software should be continual long term training. Over time, most users will develop short cuts with the program; they will tend to find the shortcomings of the application and create ‘work arounds’. These short cuts and ‘work arounds’, in my experience, can mean dropping over 25% of the systems features and functions. Another issue is that many users tend not to look outside the module in which they work and are simply unaware of the secondary effects that short cuts may cause within other modules of the program. A blended training approach will, over time, provide students with the appropriate information in the best environment to comprehensively absorb the wider functionality of the system and will also expose students to the best learning styles for them.

When planning your training program, remember to review the following questions: Who will be the audience? What type of training deliveries will be used? If using classroom training or workshops, will the training be held at the head office environment, or will the trainees come to a specific training center on-site or will they be required to travel regionally or internationally? Will the training roadmap be completed internally or via the MRO software company? Who will be responsible for the delivery of web based training options? Will the software company develop the initial training materials including the manuals and e-learning courses? Will there be any score card for the training? Will students be required to undertake examinations?

Change management:

Change is difficult for most people and companies and it must be managed; but it is inevitable and so staff must be flexible. The software company and the software itself will often introduce changes, including to roles, responsibilities, procedures and processes. Your management team must be able to deal with these changes, adapt and continue to control the project. This can be done with continued education and management, as well as communication. Where there is a lack of information, there will be lack of control over the change. Remember, to overcome resistance to change is to give clear communication and education. Resistance usually comes from fear so educating the employees will reduce this. Some people will resist change and will have adjustment issues and some employees will simply have anxieties during these transition periods. These employees should be supported. Management needs to be supportive. Special training programs may be required.

People and departments will be greatly affected because of the implementation of a new MRO IT system. Some individuals may lose considerable power that they currently hold within the old system and will resist change as much as possible. If the employee refuses to cooperate, a more forceful approach may be required. In such cases, the employee will be offered an incentive to leave the company with either buyout options or perhaps retirement options; or perhaps be internally transferred. For the successful implementation of an MRO software package, you cannot allow resistance from those in current positions of power. As a last resort, forceful coercion tactics can be used. Management can explicitly or implicitly force employees into accepting change. Successful implementation depends on making it clear that resistance to change can and will lead to jobs losses, dismissals, employee transfers or loss of promotion opportunities. Unpleasant as that may seem, the success of the project could depend on it.

Other issues:

Other issues that can occur are that the system may not work in the way that was planned. To overcome MRO IT implementation troubles, a contingency plan must be developed at the beginning of the project. Strategies should be established in detail in order to avoid any errors.

Make sure that proper research about the software has been completed. The selected MRO software package should be suitable for the company and the selection of the software vendor should be done only after proper research has been undertaken including an evaluation of internal processes, and talking and meeting with actual users and/or current customers of the short listed software vendors. Request onsite customer visits and involve your own internal users. Your internal users of the current legacy system are the ones who know the environment best.

Some of the factors that lead to errors with MRO software implementation could occur if care is not taken. Implementation takes investment meaning time and budget investment, resource investment and upper management investment. Regardless of all that, if the new software is not implemented the right way from the initial phases, you will have long term and continual loss on that investment, more than likely for the life of the software. It is therefore important to consider all possible risks to ensure that the software is implemented successfully. It is also important to have as much control as possible to produce as few errors as possible.

Fig 2: A Gant Chart to track progress in each element of the project

We have covered some of the points that will need to be considered for successful implementation of an MRO IT product plus possible problems that operators may encounter if project management principles are not followed. In order to achieve a successful implementation, one that is running with the desired deliverables and in which the users are satisfied with the improvements to their day to day work, it is recommended that project management principles be followed. A successful MRO IT implementation will provide a good return on investment.

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