Process 101: How to Build a Process-Driven Business Aviation Operation

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What if someone told you, as a business aviation leader, that there was a guaranteed way for you to increase your flight department's operating efficiency, lower your costs and ensure consistent service delivery each and every time you have the opportunity to serve your executive travelers? Would you listen?

business aviation team working on a process with flipchat in office settingBy Steve Brechter, Gray Stone Advisors

You should listen, because there indeed is a way. Transitioning your flight department from a functionally-based to a process-driven organization will do all of the above, and then some. It will likely advance your career as well.  

In a recent blog, we outlined the top reasons that every business aviation organization needs to become process-focused. Now we'll tell you how.

Five Steps to Becoming a Process-Driven Flight Department

Here's how to transition your flight department from a functionally-based organization to a high-performing, process-driven one.

1. Think Process, Not Function

The major functional groupings within a flight department (Flight Operations, Scheduling, Maintenance, etc.) oversee tasks that, at a high level, are largely self-evident. For instance, Flight Operations is responsible for operating the aircraft, Maintenance for keeping the aircraft airworthy, Scheduling for handling flight requests and planning trips, etc. At high levels, things typically make sense. But, very likely, buried underneath are tasks that are not as clearly defined, that are duplicated elsewhere in the department or are not defined at all.

In our process work with flight departments across the business aviation industry, we regularly uncover such instances. For example, in one fight department we discovered that crew scheduling was being handled in two separate places. In another, we found that a corporate facility (completely unrelated to aviation) was being managed by the aviation department. Both instances resulted in diminishing the effectiveness of the flight department. Why did these instances occur? Because a "functional" mindset was at work, one that assigned tasks with no rhyme, reason or connection to the organization's primary mission.

A "process" mindset, on the other hand, assigns tasks where they belong, based on the natural process groupings of the department. Applying the "wire brush of process" across an aviation organization always uncovers inefficiencies like these. Once such tasks are revealed, they can be placed where they belong—or done away with entirely if they do not add value.

2. Identify, Map and Document the Core Processes

The core processes in each major functional area of the flight department must be identified and flow-mapped. Core processes identify "what" gets done. They initially define the current state: that is, what is happening right now. Optimization occurs later. The core processes should be documented using a uniform template that includes a process flow map, a narrative describing the process, identification of the process owner (by title), effectiveness metrics (that specify how the process is measured to assure that it is operating as intended), and the detailed process description.

Upon completion of the core process documents, everyone in the department will know how each of the functional groups operates. Duplication of effort is eliminated, and the department begins to run with less "grinding and gnashing of teeth." All process documents should be maintained in electronic format but, if printed, core process documents are typically no more than 5-10 pages in length.

3. Identify and Document the Operating Processes

Following documentation of the core processes, an assessment should be made of which processes need further clarification regarding how the work is done. In such cases, how certain aspects of the process are accomplished is documented in what's called an operating process. These will be hyperlinked from the core process documents. Upon publication of operating process documents, everyone will have a thorough understanding of how critical tasks are performed. Also included are any forms or other documents that already exist and are revision-controlled, such as the Flight Operations Manual (FOM).

The result is a department where people can easily understand how each critical task is completed, which readily enables team members to "back fill" for someone else as needed. The "critical person syndrome," whereby only certain individuals know how to do certain jobs, is avoided. If the operating process documents are written correctly, you or I could fill-in to do the job well enough that the department would not skip a beat. Operating process documents are also maintained in electronic format and are typically 2-3 pages in length (when printed).    

4. Establish a Document Management System (DMS)

All core and operating process documents should be made accessible to everyone in the department. As such, they need to reside within a commonly-shared DMS (e.g., SharePoint). The DMS should be server-based with appropriate levels of access for both read and edit capabilities. An electronic DMS ensures that all core and operating processes in the system are the latest revision. If you print a hard copy, it should be watermarked with "Reference Only" to note that it may not be the latest revision. Most importantly, a well-architected DMS provides a single point of entry into the flight department's written documentation system. Every process is accessible and the implementation of every requirement can be determined by means of the DMS.

Gone are the file cabinets, notebook binders and personal files that previously were the only means of determining "how things get done." Everything is accessible to everyone in the department through the single-point access of the DMS.  

5. Optimize Your Processes

Now comes the fun—and the payback. Once all your processes are flow-mapped and documented, you can step back and see clearly "what is." Armed with that perspective, you then begin to see inefficiencies and be able to make changes that increase operating efficiency. For example, internal lead times can be shortened on processing payables and throughput can be increased on processing flight requests. Whatever the challenges are for your flight department, the processes are clearly defined and stated in black-and-white. And each has "opportunity" written all over it.

What Have You Done?

We are sure that many flight departments have adopted different ways to document the major processes that shape the execution of their mission. If you have, we'd like to hear about it. Please feel free to let us know using the link below. If you'd like to discuss any aspect of building a process-driven flight department directly, please feel free to email me.



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