GRAY STONE ADVISORS' BLOG

Process 101: The Case for Process Management in Business Aviation

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Process management in business aviation is one of those skills that few flight department employees know very well. And far too many discover the unfortunate way. When executed well, a process-based organization consistently yields the highest levels of efficiency and seems to run effortlessly. So why aren't more flight departments in a fully deployed, process-based operating mode?

By Steve Brechter, Gray Stone Advisors

process management flow chart blue blocks gray arrows"I'm registered to IS-BAO, so I've already documented the processes in my flight department," is a line we frequently hear, but it's simply not true.

When you become IS-BAO-registered, you've accomplished a significant milestone, which results in a safer operation. However, the focus is usually a deep-dive into Flight Operations. But what about the processes in the Scheduling & Dispatch, Maintenance, Business Services, Administration and Executive Office Interface functions?

These areas are only peripherally addressed by IS-BAO, and, following IB-BAO registration, the processes within these functions remain, for the most part, untouched.

Today more and more business aviation leaders are beginning to realize that IS-BAO is just the beginning of the journey to operational excellence, not the end.


What is a Process?

Let's start with a simple definition: A process can be defined as a sequence of steps that produce a desired outcome.

Defined and documented processes also ensure consistent outcomes. Logbooks are completed the same way, no matter who makes the entry. Invoices are processed correctly and completely, regardless who handles them. Everything gets done consistently and correctly—each and every time. Documented processes produce repeatable results without firefighting, high drama or heroic efforts.

 

What is Process Management in business aviation organizations?

There are two types of processes, ones that are repeatable on their own and others that require constant intervention to produce the desired outcome. The former are the types of processes you want, the latter—called 'relationship-based' processes—are the types you don't. They require human intervention (i.e., a specific person) to produce the desired result. Well-designed processes deliver consistent results by themselves, regardless of the people who happen to be generating them. That's what we're after.

To achieve the highest levels of operating efficiency in your fight department, you must apply the rigor of process documentation across the entire operation, not just parts of it. Here's why it's a good thing to do:


10 Reasons to Implement Processes Management in Business Aviation


1. Increased Operating Efficiency

Process definition and documentation enable the optimization of all your business processes. You can't improve a process without first examining its 'as is' state. Only when processes are defined and documented can you have the baseline for metrics, measurement and improvement. As time goes on, you will notice that more is getting done with less effort, and that virtually nothing 'falls through the cracks' or has to be done twice.

2.  Business Continuity

How many functions are there in your flight department for which you have only one person readily equipped to handle it? This is a dangerous situation that is often career-limiting. One unanticipated retirement could put the department on its knees. It's up to you to ensure that you have adequate backup for your key functions. The transition from a 'relationship-based' to 'process-based' flight department avoids the 'critical person syndrome,' in which only one person in the organization can perform a business-critical function. Employees understand more of the operation and can readily move between jobs whenever necessary, without disruption to the business.

3.  Continuous Improvement

Ever wonder why some invoices get paid on time and others do not? Or why maintenance logs sometimes get signed-off correctly and sometimes do not? Despite the best of intentions by your employees, a lack of process definition opens the way for individual interpretation and inconsistent outcomes. Clearly defined processes illustrate 'what' and 'how' things get done, driving crisp execution and next-level performance throughout the entire organization.

"In terms of continuous improvement, many people in our industry wonder what's next after IS-BAO Stage 3," says Candace Covington, Chief Pilot at Qualcomm, Inc. "Process is it. Process is the post-IS-BAO world."     

4.  Greater Alignment with Your Parent Company

Are you looking for ways to more closely align your flight department with your parent company? You should be, at every opportunity. Process documentation is consistent with all contemporary Quality Management System (QMS) initiatives, and likely is compatible with the QMS in use within your parent company. A focus on process increases alignment with corporate. Aviation will increasingly be seen as the 'business within a business' that it truly is.

According to John Gale, Director of Aviation at CNH Industrial, "Process directly connects the flight department to the parent company's business. It might even have some utility as a tool to help those flight department leaders who find themselves constantly having to justify their existence to corporate." 

5.  Improved Customer Service Levels

Do you consistently provide the highest possible levels of customer service to your executive passengers? Each and every time they fly? Or does it sometimes seem like a hit-or-miss proposition? If it's the latter, the cause is likely insufficiently defined customer service processes. A smoother operation 'behind the curtain' always results in better and more consistent customer service delivery in front of it.

6.  Extra Bandwidth

Clearly defined processes produce the desired outcome all the time, enabling employees to focus on what they really should be focusing on: activities that drive the business forward, not just maintain the status quo. Things get done right the first time and without rework. Process documentation creates enormous incremental bandwidth across your aviation operation.

"Companies are restructuring to get more out of less, so everyone has to wear more hats," notes Don Paddock, Director of Aviation at SC Johnson & Son. "Pilots don't just fly airplanes anymore; they need to be involved as well in the business of business aviation." Process helps create the bandwidth for a flight department to be responsive to the new demands placed upon it.       

7.  Development Opportunities

Documented processes enable process ownership by all employees. Process ownership enables you, the leader, to move the organization away from the old world of command and control to the new world of empowerment. When linked with Individual Development Planning, empowerment through process ownership yields unprecedented employee growth and development opportunities.

8.  Distributed Workload

Ever notice that some of your people are able to get their work done readily each day while others seemingly never have enough time? The root cause could very well be imbalanced workload resulting from an outdated 'functional' vs. new-world, 'process-based' organizational structure. Fully defined processes more evenly distribute the workload and reduce the burden on you, your leadership team and virtually every person within your flight department.

9.  Work/Life Balance

Work/life balance among employees is sometimes skewed by the 'critical person syndrome' noted above. Are some of your employees—be they schedulers, maintenance technicians or pilots—having to work more hours than others? If so, it's probably because there isn't any backup for the work they do. This should never be the case; such a situation is totally avoided in a process-based organization. Documented processes create backup and surge capability, along with a more level-loaded work environment for all.

"I think a good goal is to have processes documented so clearly that anyone with basic knowledge can follow the script and complete the task as successfully as the task originator," states Mitch Vuernick, Director of Aviation for Cigna.

10. Employee Commitment and Engagement

Documented processes that are readily accessible by all employees create a more visible and open organization. There's no longer any question about how things are done or who is responsible for what. Clearly defined processes create an environment for all employees to challenge the status quo and suggest improvements that make the operation more effective and efficient. The result is a more engaged, committed and productive workforce.

 

Stay Tuned

If you liked what you've read here, click here for our previous "process-oriented" posts. You might also like how to build a process-based operating system within your flight department. If you have any recommendations or insights, I welcome them in the comments section below.

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