Project Management Institute

Plan of attack

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Chuck Allen, Boeing Co., St. Louis, Missouri, USA

For Chuck Allen, it all comes down to the plan.

Vice president of program management for integrated defense systems at aerospace giant Boeing, he has worked on a number of high-profile projects, including the Apache helicopter and V-22 Osprey aircraft.

Right now all eyes are on Boeing's controversial 787 Dreamliner program, which Mr. Allen couldn't discuss. But he did tackle the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet. It's now a combat-proven strike fighter in the U.S. Navy fleet, but that was only after some intense up-front planning and a meticulous change-control process were in place.

“All key stakeholders came together to agree on a clear plan of action,” he says. “If you start out on the wrong foot with a program, it likely will only get worse.”

What's Boeing's approach to project and program management?

Our customers are all different. On the commercial side, their desire to be involved is minimal, but on the defense side, our customers are involved with everything we do. They're spending taxpayer dollars and are obligated to make sure we fulfill the contract, so transparency is a critical component of our process.

We have an electronic system that constantly pulls and correlates all the data regarding a program— including design, development, schedule and the earned value status—and puts it into a set of charts that everyone involved on the project can see. There's no hiding anything and no underlying concern that someone isn't being completely honest.

How does program management help Boeing achieve its goals?

In our industry we have regulations that we live by. We have 14 best practices as part of our program management process—and built into those are controls and reviews to ensure all of our products are compliant.

But it's also about predictability. We have a group that does data analysis on program outcomes and it can show, with hard data, that the programs that follow the best practices methods have the most reliable and most predictable performance.

Has the recession changed the way you manage programs at Boeing?

No one wants to be the next New York Times headline. We are a lot more focused on execution, cost and scheduling. We're making sure we manage programs using our best practices, and if we need to deviate from the plan, we first do a thorough review.

What lessons has Boeing learned from the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet program?

Requirements, statement of work and budget must align when you begin a program. That calls for clarity between the contractor and customer around the necessary requirements. Our navy customer came to us with a set of requirements for the airplane that resulted in development costs over their budget.

At the direction of the navy and prime contractor program manager, all the stakeholders—about 150—sat down with the chief engineers to align requirements and the overall statement of work. The meeting lasted almost two weeks, and we examined the proposal line by line. Some “requirements” were determined to be “nice-to-haves” and eliminated. Others were modified slightly so the same result could be achieved, but in a less costly way. The majority were untouched because the requirement was an operational capability that the navy really needed.

If you start out
on the wrong
foot with
a program, it
likely will
only get worse.

To ensure we stayed on course, we put some of our very best people on the project and established an extremely rigorous and disciplined change-control process with the customer and our principal subcontractor. Before any change could be made, all the experts had the opportunity to weigh in. It helped us minimize risk and, in this case, exceed customer expectations.

hat other lessons have you learned in your 20 years of experience in the aerospace industry?

You need to begin with the best plan possible, test it and get people from the outside to review it. There's no question your plan will change along the way—but if you don't at least start with a good plan, it's almost impossible to succeed. PM

This material has been reproduced with the permission of the copyright owner. Unauthorized reproduction of this material is strictly prohibited. For permission to reproduce this material, please contact PMI.

DECEMBER 2009 PM NETWORK

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