To new heights
Hubert Mantel, head of the Centre of Competence Project and ProgrammeManagement, Airbus, Toulouse, France
ILLUSTRATION BY JOEL KIMMEL
Hubert Mantel, head of the Centre of Competence Project and Programme Management, Airbus, Toulouse, France
Few business rivalries are as intense as Airbus and Boeing's competition to dominate the global aerospace industry. To gain the advantage, in recent years Airbus, the world's second-largest airplane manufacturer, has focused on improving project efficiency. The company's Centre of Competence for Project and Programme Management has led the effort. Last year alone, the center successfully managed the launch of 70 major projects and certified 650 project managers through its own training program. Hubert Mantel has led the center since joining Airbus in 2012. Previously, he held program and engineering leadership positions in aeronautics and defense organizations.
First, the center develops the body of knowledge, processes, methods, tools and the training for proper project and program management. Second, it distributes project managers to projects and programs throughout the business, and it supports the project leaders so they always have well-equipped professionals.
Why did Airbus create the center?
It all started with a crisis. In 2008, the organization encountered difficulties during the development of the A380 aircraft, which have since been resolved. That situation highlighted the need to launch a project management improvement plan throughout Airbus. We were far from the benchmark of delivering that aircraft on time and within cost—which is not a small matter if you look at the €10 billion to €12 billion investment of a new aircraft development. It got to a point where any more delayed developments would have endangered the company.
Making progress in project and program management means educating the people and changing the culture. So it's a long-lasting investment, and it has to be understood as a long-lasting investment.
So the crisis led the organization to look at its project management processes?
The crisis mobilized us to recognize that proper project management improves efficiency. We had to take corrective action to improve drastically and invest in our project management abilities. Inadequate project management was not the only cause of the crisis, but it certainly was a major contributor.
How did the center help improve project delivery?
On one key project, the A350 XWB airliner, we performed a risk analysis and executed a risk mitigation plan. Last year, we delivered the project on time to our customer, Qatar Airways, which has expressed the utmost satisfaction with the product. It's now in operation daily.
Two years after we started the center, we launched the development of the A320neo (new engine option) aircraft. The first delivery is on schedule for the end of this year. We have been perfectly on time. There was a lot of coordination of the supply chain, the engineering, the customers. We have been analyzing lessons learned from our projects and applying all of them to implement best practices. And we have determined that, in the future, we can develop improvements of the neo engine in 30 percent less time.
Your CEO, Fabrice Brégier, said that Airbus last year became a faster, simpler, more agile company. What does that mean for the organization's culture?
In 2014, the company invested a lot into culture, asking people to work in agile ways so that we can go from a business case to market in less than six months for the A330neo aircraft launch. We're working in a much more agile way than in the past, and that means a lot of changes in the mindset in the operation. Making progress in project and program management means educating the people and changing the culture. So it's a long-lasting investment, and it has to be understood as a long-lasting investment.
Can you talk about the challenge of changing culture?
As a man with five children, educating my children is a challenge in itself. Educating a company of more than 60,000 adults is a bigger challenge. The Centre of Competence has worked to change the culture from one focused on technical engineering skills to one that also features professional project management skills and techniques.
When you get the first project successes, people tend to think, “Well, we've done the job.” But we have to maintain our efforts and continue to educate them. Year after year, we try to find ways to reach people and educate them more. We support project managers to become certified with PMI. Once they have the technique, we also develop the soft skills, since project management is not just technique.
How does the center's training program educate project managers?
We have set up a full certification program, in which project managers go from iron to platinum based on markers such as, “Have I been responsible for a project team? Have I interacted with customers? Have I worked in different divisions of the company?” The Project Management Professional (PMP)® certification takes place between bronze and silver. The levels also depend on the number of years of successful work. The highest level requires more than 15 years of experience in many areas. So the training program helps everyone understand how they should develop themselves. PM
What's the best professional advice you ever received?
A colleague once gave me wise advice in the form of a riddle: “How do you eat an elephant? The answer: bite by bite.” In other words, don't get paralyzed by the sum of your problems.
What's the one skill every project manager should have?
Favorite extracurricular activity?
My wife and I are involved in Scouting activities. We help youngsters camp, experience nature, and learn how to develop themselves and how to survive.
PM NETWORK AUGUST 2015 WWW.PMI.ORG
AUGUST 2015 PM NETWORK