GRAY STONE ADVISORS' BLOG

PROCESS MANAGEMENT: The Fifth of the "Seven Essential Keys to Success"

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aviation team of four reviewing a process map at workHave you ever wondered why things don't always seem to be operating smoothly in your aviation organization? Have you ever asked yourself why things "fall through the cracks" and why there's so much "grinding and gnashing of teeth" to get a seemingly routine task done? When something does go right, do you question why it can't always be that way?

by Steve Brechter, Gray Stone Advisors

The answer is likely in the underlying processes that support—or don't support—your aviation organization.

Our advice is simple—you need to invest the time to focus on and fully understand the processes that directly impact the execution of the Mission of your aviation organization.

Process Management: The Fifth Essential Key to Success

At Gray Stone Advisors, we help our clients achieve superior performance with a foundation, which starts with the "Seven Essential Keys to Success in Business Aviation."

Today, we're covering the fifth essential key, Process Management, and sharing why every business aviation organization needs to carefully examine the underlying processes that drive the consistent execution of its mission.

What is a Process?

A process can be defined as a "sequence of steps that produce a desired outcome, each and every time." When smartly applied, process management frees you from constant intervention in day-to-day tasks. An investment in process management pays for itself by creating additional bandwidth for the department. A focus on process frees you from constantly having to intervene and "fix" the routine tasks, thereby enabling you to turn your attention to the things that will improve your aviation operation and drive it to ever higher levels of performance.

First, a disclaimer: We're not talking about taking your eyes off the regulatory ball. We're talking about taking actions that that help ensure that regulatory compliance is made even better by ensuring consistent outcomes. Logbooks completed the same way, no matter who makes the entry. Invoices processed correctly and completely, regardless who handles them. Everything gets done consistently and correctly, each and every time.

This is the fundamental cornerstone of process management—documented processes that produce consistent, repeatable results without extraordinary or heroic efforts.

Good Processes—and Bad

There are two kinds of processes: ones that are repeatable on their own and others that require constant intervention to produce the desired result. The first are the kinds of processes you want, the second are the kinds you don't. The latter are called "relationship-based" processes. They require constant human intervention (aka "labor") to produce the desired outcome. Well-designed processes deliver consistent results on their own, regardless of the people who surround them. But how do you ensure that the processes that drive your business are actually freeing you up and not shackling you at the wrists and ankles?

Get the Facts—Understand "What Is"

When working with a business aviation organization on building an effective process management system, Gray Stone Advisors starts by getting a clear sense of what's really going on today.

You need to discover the unvarnished truth. 

Getting to this point involves "safe space creation" and highly structured brainstorming. Note that we're not yet using the "process" word, but rather getting the team members to focus on (and become aligned around) the specific work tasks that they do. We like to work with each functional group individually, such as maintenance, dispatch, flight operations, administration, etc. We do so because the functional groups themselves typically discover that they are not completely aligned around what they actually do—or are supposed to do—and significant learning takes place during this discovery process.

All team members are assembled for this brainstorming session, not just the leadership team. Why? Because the people who know the most about the work that is done are the people closest to it. Plus, you get early buy-in to the initiative. You always get a better sense of what's really done by involving those closest to the action.

Start at the Top with Brainstorming

The first step is to create an environment of free-thinking. Let's use our friends in maintenance as an example. With the entire maintenance team in the room (or as many as can be assembled), we begin with a facilitated session that fills the walls with flip charts and the output of brainstorming. Nominal grouping and prioritization take place and the list is narrowed down.

At the high level, the major task groupings (aka "processes") of any organization are very obvious. So we ask for patience. The "nuggets" are yet to come. To get at them, we next ask the group to select one of the "obvious" task groupings and repeat the brainstorming process specifically for it. We let the group select the process. Why? Because they best know the issues. 

It's at this stage that the "real issues" start to come into focus. Questions get asked such as, "We're supposed to do it that way?" Or, "That's NOT the way I do it!" Slowly, alignment around what's supposed to happen begins to occur. At this stage, issues arise that, at the current time, cannot be resolved are placed in what we call a "parking lot."             

What's in the Parking Lot? Organizational Friction.

Here's where the payback to the organization begins. After the major processes of the group are defined, we get to work on the "parking lot." As these issues get addressed, one of two things happen: 1) unclear processes finally get resolved, or 2) the group discovers some of the process are NOT really theirs in the first place. It's here that major sources of organizational friction get eliminated.

Where SHOULD This Go?

It's now time to involve other parts of the organization. Let's use our friends in flight operations and dispatch for this example. In one session we facilitated, both dispatch and flight operations identified "crew scheduling" as a process they both owned. Both were doing it and it had been a source of friction, inefficiency and confusion within the flight department for a long time. When the groups were brought together and this particular issue was discussed, it was resolved—by the groups themselves. Organizational friction gave way to collaboration, and collaboration led to results.        

Measure and Get Results!

Once key processes are identified, the team selects those that are the most vital to produce the results for which they are accountable. The final step now takes place, wherein the team is coached to select effectiveness measures to ensure quantitatively that each process is working as intended.

Over the span of a couple work sessions, the functional group has identified its major business processes, selected those most critical to their mission and identified metrics by which to measure and achieve the desired results. And they have done so with processes that they "own," are repeatable, require minimal intervention and free them to focus their energy on the things that drive the business forward. They can create even more value for their parent company or host organization.

We always invite questions and comments from our readers. Please let us know the things you have done in your aviation organization to document your processes and produce consistent and repeatable outcomes.

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