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|White Paper: MRO IT Project Management — Project initiation
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White Paper: MRO IT Project Management — Project initiation
Author: Wesley Parfitt, CEO, EnvelopeAPM Inc.Subscribe
It’s not, as Wesley Parfitt, CEO EnvelopeAPM Inc. explains, just a matter of pressing the ‘start’ button. Initiation is a process in its own right.
The article in summer 2011, ‘A discussion on Project Management – framework for successful MRO software implementation’, reviewed the basic framework of project management and how it is utilized during the implementation of an MRO software package. There are five groups of processes in project management: initiation, planning, execution, controlling and project closing: this article will focus on project initiation and related activities; not high level detailing but laying the foundation of some thoughts for you to take away and apply in your work environments.
A project starts with the conception, where a business issue or opportunity is identified; for example, the need for a new MRO software package.
The process group covered in this article will be initiation; the starting point for procurement of a new project. At this stage we should establish the objectives, scope, deliverables and the overall purpose for the project. Generally project initiation will encompass a select few activities including the deployment of a business case, the development and undertaking of a feasibility study, the creation of a project charter, appointment of the project team and, depending on the size of project, the creation of a project management office (PMO): then finally, the project phase review, otherwise known as the initiation closing. By this point it should be understood whether there is a project with which to proceed and whether it will be successful.
Before new MRO software can be selected, the need must be established; although many can agree on the problem, not everyone can establish the specific requirements for new M&E (Maintenance & Engineering) software. The perceived need usually overshadows the actual need. Too many times, software is selected by operators when staff move between different organizations. New operators typically ask for a new software system based on their experience working at their previous employment. Purchasing new software because someone asked for it will not necessarily solve any situation: there will simply not be enough information to generate a clear and effective appreciation of what is required from the new software and whether or not the legacy system replacement will even bring positive value to the business. In some cases it is simply changing from one lacking program to possibly another with a whole set of additional issues. When organizations try to implement a solution without understanding the actual issue in the first place, they are trying to generate a solution to problems which have never been properly established or understood.
Implementing an MRO solution is a difficult process. First the organization must make the correct decisions when selecting MRO IT. Consideration must be given to projected growth, long term capabilities and the investigative factors when selecting the MRO IT package. This is difficult for a typical MRO or engineering department that has limited exposure and knowledge about the MRO IT environment, the selection process and benchmarking involved in the required deliverables.
Whether working with a consultant, an internal PMO or simply the engineering department heads, the more detail that is available about the situation when embarking on application selection and then implementation, the more likely it is that the best software application for the purposes will be chosen with potential to fit the business’s needs today and in the future. With this, we develop the business case.
Before commencing any real work it would be beneficial to carry out a review and establish some guidelines; a feasibility study should then take place, investigating all possible solutions. 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 should 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 can be identified, either from internal resources, an internal PMO or possibly an outsourced project management firm.
Defining the problem – feasibility study
Starting the selection process should begin with precisely defining the problem. Is the intention to systematize specific businesses processes? Is it time to adopt new best practices? Perhaps the organization is interested in reducing processing times or reducing paper output. Other considerations can include that the legacy MRO software is simply no longer supported. Are there requirements of specific quality programs or aviation regulations which must be adhered to? And, perhaps most importantly, how will solving these problems build a new foundation for longer term success for the operation?
In our example of a new MRO software solution, the feasibility study must be conducted with a thorough analysis and all possible project impacts must be reviewed so as to be beneficial to the current operation as well as not negatively affect the day to day operation of the current system. A thorough analysis will allow the final decisions as to whether new M&E software is required. For this to be effective, it is important to… define requirements, needs, wants and expectations; consider who will conduct the feasibility study; and ask whether there are the internal resources. If so, are these resources the best to manage such a study?
The outcome of the feasibility study is to provide management with the information needed to make the best decision possible; whether or not to go ahead with the procurement and implementation of a new MRO software package. The only way this can be achieved is with an extensive study of the current legacy systems including shortcomings of that product and future developments expected from the vendor. Comparisons of current functionalities of other MRO software systems must also be included in the study. The feasibility study will show present needs and wants, and will review the financial and operational impacts of implementing a new product.
Those conducting a feasibility study must have the necessary experience and should also be knowledgeable in the subject matter, in this case MRO software. They should be fair and critical, remain unbiased and ensure that they are not swayed by sales pitches. They need to remain emotionally unattached to any software over others and must keep an open mind. It is important that all necessary data is consistently collected, analyzed and presented so that the best decision can be made.
Identify and establish the project sponsor
The project sponsor holds accountability for the project, including keeping it on track. This means they should regularly meet with the project managers and review project time lines and key milestones. Part of the sponsor’s job is to hold project managers accountable for hitting project objectives throughout the project and to ensure that the project managers continue to produce the deliverables that were established within the project scope.
The sponsor should be available and consistently accessible to the management team. With the project manager they must establish a partnership and/or a good working relationship as well as develop an environment conducive to a successful project result. Project sponsors should invest time to ensure that they understand the project, its scope and the complete deliverables. Should the project sponsor not understand the project, it may not be identified as a priority and without that crucial support, will lack investment of interest and capital. The project sponsor should champion the project within the organization, secure spending authority and resources, and provide support to the project manager. At this point, sponsorship of the project must be confirmed and securing approval early in the project management lifecycle helps to ensure a commitment to the project.
Development of project charter – objective
Development of the project charter is the starting point after the feasibility study is complete and project sponsors selected. The project charter is the objective of a proposal, i.e. to evaluate the possibility of replacing the current MRO software and, as such, must be established in a formal document: everything must be committed to paper. This will help establish commitment among project team members as well as between the team and the project stakeholders. It may be desirable to further define the business objectives which, in the case of MRO M&E software replacement, might include objectives such as web-based aviation management software program, the ability to integrate or transfer data from and to current systems, planning, maintenance scheduling, forecasting, tracking, reliability monitoring, electronic library management, integration with third party document management systems, etc.
It is important to consider constraints in the project charter. For any potential MRO maintenance system to be considered, the regulations set out by a specific department of transport or aviation regulator must be followed. Any potential system must be flexible enough to interface with other systems and data structures.
Develop project scope
This is one of the most important components in project initiation. The project scope statement also serves as a launching board for the project: it can be a large document or a simple one, or a two page manifesto. So how big does this thing have to be? As a rule of thumb, the larger the project, the longer it will take to create the project scope statement, and the more information will need to be included in the document. Obviously, comparing implementing a software solution for a small regional operator versus a large tier 1 airline, the scope statement will be different between the two. The scope is the formal definition of the project and what needs to be accomplished. It should address and document the characteristics and limitations of the project as well as establish methods of acceptance and scope control. Information from the initiator or the project sponsor will typically be used to develop the scope which will define the parameters of the project and this can include the vision. This document will be the foundation for the forthcoming steps required to complete the project cycles and the scope must make the direction clear by focusing on the project’s final outcomes.
During devolvement of the scope, the team will be able to define a vision. Having a clear vision and scope will avoid confusion among staff and stakeholders: it will be clear where the project ends. Where the scope is under-defined there is a risk, in the case of the implementation of an MRO system, it will become a never ending implementation. The scope statement should include the description, acceptance, deliverables, exclusion, contracts and assumptions. It must represent an understanding of the project between team members, help in communication among the stakeholders, define authorities and set limits for the project manager and team.
The scope statement includes how the project is related to business objectives. It also defines the boundaries of the project in multiple dimensions including approach, deliverables, milestones and budget. A scope statement can be a brief document or a fully-fledged document. An example of a simple scope brief may be: ‘To implement aircraft maintenance management system, MRO M&E software, for said company Maintenance & Engineering personnel by 1 November 2012 to provide users with the most efficient, ‘real time’ software program that allows visibility to the fleet status.’
Initial project team
At this stage, the initial project team should be identified. The team may be small and may include, as a minimum, the manager and a small group of individuals who can provide support in the initial stages of the project and perhaps take more leadership roles should the project be approved. Generally, the project sponsor will take the lead in selection of the team individuals within the engineering department. In his selection, the sponsor should include people who can make decisions about the project, can ensure that the project is fully resourced to achieve its desired result, and who are most affected by the project. The team can also include members from outside the organization and may be selected from internal resources, an internal PMO or an outsourced project management firm.
Initial project team – project manager
We have looked at the initial project team as well as the sponsor, however, a critical team member and project keeper is the project manager. The project manager must be the right person for the job. One major factor in predicting success for any project is selecting the right project manager. Project management is both a science and an art; more than planning and project execution, it involves maintenance of schedules and budgets and requires project management skills and experience.
A successful proposal – establish a thorough RFP/RFQ- procurement document for submission to software vendors
During this step, requirements will be established, i.e. what is needed for a new MRO system. Having a thorough RFP/RFQ (request for proposal/request for quotation) is of key importance to being able to effectively analyze and compare the results received from each vendor. The RFP/RFQ will help determine which product best fits the needs and will allow consistent comparison of what different products offer.
The RFP/RFQ should include: an executive summary, company background, business objectives, company organizational chart, required format for proposal, project constraints and assumptions, scope of work, project start, contract overview, specifications of requirements, evaluation and reward criteria, terms and rules for vendors to abide by during the procurement, schedules, closing date for receipt of proposals, awarding authority information, details of management and key personnel, schedule of costs and more. Some organizations may have a process document for procurement: if not it might be advisable to deal with outsourced contractors with experience in the procurement of new MRO systems. Contact advisors who will have experience and are aware of techniques and skills required to create a well-developed procurement document.
In our example, a well written RFP will allow the organization maximum control in the selection and purchase of MRO software. A poorly defined RFP will lead to poor results in the search for a replacement to the legacy software. The creation of the RFP is a complex undertaking but it is very important so take the time to do it thoroughly. It will ensure that the project objectives are met.
The decision process
It’s decision time, time to analyze potential replacement MRO software solutions, to decide and document which system is best for the operation. At this stage, evaluate each solution objectively against feasibility data requirements. It will be necessary to create a quantitative base document for judging and evaluating each software alternative. A common method to formalize the decision making process is a decision matrix; a tool to calculate a number that specifies and justifies the best decision. Develop the matrix to rank, in order of importance, the desirable attributes or criteria for the MRO software solution. Include factors such as features and functionality, check sheet, cost, compliance with regulatory authority, system that best fits your requirements, etc. Other important considerations should include the proven track record of key personnel in providing required services, financial viability, technical ability, project management, quality of customer support, after sales service, and technical assistance, ability to meet project timeframes, costs, available documentation and training, maintenance and support. The matrix will help define which products best match established needs.
Keep in mind that during the decision process you may be influenced by the quality of the RFP/RFQ answers that you receive, such as the methodology the vendor included, the demonstrated understanding of the requirements, etc. Another great way to gather information for your decision process is ask for references. Talk to references, visit with existing customers and if possible, go and visit existing clients to see how the software operates in a live environment. Also, if possible, request to visit a customer currently undertaking an implementation.
Initiation phase – wrap up
Before proceeding onto the next phase, it must be formally acknowledged that the project initiation, acceptance and review of all the deliverables have been met. Final approval should be authorized by the project sponsor before continuing. The process of acceptance and approvals is continual and will be covered at the end of each phase during the project: it shows that project milestones have been met and at the same time confirms that certain deliverables have been completed which will also streamline the overall final project acceptance. Hitting milestones is also very rewarding to project team members.
Special considerations for project initiation
Project management isn’t a simple task; it requires much work and knowledge. Without a grasp on project direction, delivery will not succeed. MRO IT systems cost a great deal to implement so you don’t want to find you have gone through the expense for nothing; be sure to clearly define the problems you are trying to solve.
For successful implementation to take place, a certain number of investments are required, investment of financial resources, time, and staff. Other Important points are enthusiasm, determination, decision making, planning, execution and continuous improvement. I cannot emphasize enough the importance of these investments in project success.
The end result
On completion of the initiation phase, a review is undertaken and the project will either be approved or rejected. Once approved, the project will be authorized to begin and the initiation phase will become the foundation for the launch of the project. As mentioned earlier, documentation during the initiation phase will allow for detailed planning and establish the initial tasks for the project. With goals and processes already in place and details agreed, planning and execution can proceed smoothly. Generally the project manager and executive project team prepare and present a project status review for the project sponsor and project stakeholders.
The next article will review; ‘project planning for MRO software implementation.’