In this posting on my MRO case study series, I want to discuss some of the issues we encountered while trying to implement Critical Chain Project Management (CCPM) in a bit more detail. But remember, as I mentioned in several other posts in this series, because of the sensitive nature of this subject, things like cycle times and throughput numbers will be coded in some way. For example, rather than stating the actual improvements in cycle times and/or throughput rates, a percentage improvement will be provided.
In order for everyone to get a complete picture of the environment we were trying to implement Critical Chain Project Management (CCPM) in, I want to give you some details about this organization. This contract was a government owned, contractor operated relationship with the contractor performing the maintenance required on the aircraft at this site to support the customer’s helicopter fight-training school. As such, this included both scheduled and unscheduled maintenance activities.
This contractor had started their continuous improvement journey back in 2006 on one of the five airfields. With hindsight always being 20-20, they realized that mistakes had been made in their approach. Although I wasn’t working at this site at the time, I was told that an outside entity had come in and essentially forced the improvement initiative onto the workforce with little, if any, input from the actual workforce. As you can imagine, without any input or buy-in from the hourly workforce, failure was the only outcome. The contractor learned very quickly that this was definitely not the right way and that if they wanted it to work going forward, involvement of the people performing the maintenance had to be a major part of their implementation scheme..
I mentioned in a previous posting that our Office of Continuous Improvement (OCI) was staffed with 2 Lean Six Sigma Black Belts, 1 Lean Six Sigma Master Black Belt and 1 Lean Assistant. When I first began working at this site, I was a sub-contractor to this contractor, but when my contract expired, I was hired to manage this group. Remember, this team was responsible for 5 different airfields and many back shops, so we were spread very thin. Although this team was small, each member brought a different expertise to the table, so there was excellent synergy. One of the Black Belts had an excellent knowledge of the aircraft because he had been a Chinook pilot in his previous position. Another one of the Black Belts was an excellent facilitator, which proved to be quite helpful as we rolled out our improvement efforts. Our Master Black Belt brought a wealth of knowledge of improvement tools and methods, while our Lean Assistant was excellent at preparing presentation materials and, in general, keeping everyone engaged. All-in-all we had a great nucleus in place which set the stage for our CCPM implementation.
Because of the minimal staffing in the OCI Group, the contractor had decided to limit themselves to no more than four “major” projects per year, although some of the projects had “spin-offs” which also further taxed the OCI Group resources. In addition, there was no representation at the individual airfields in the improvement efforts, so each of the members of the OCI Group were assigned to cover and assist individual airfields. Projects to be worked on were selected by various managers and directors, but it usually came down to who “complained” the loudest. This selection method was not the way it should have been, but it was this contractor's current reality.
After the problematic improvement implementation at the first airfield, the contractor used the lessons learned and moved their Lean Six Sigma initiative to the other airfields and some select back shops. In particular, there was a very successful improvement project in one of the contractor’s engine shops. It was so successful that the contractor actually was awarded a Bronze Shingo award for their efforts and results. But even with this major success, the results of the contractor’s scheduled maintenance processes were simply not producing enough maintained helicopters to satisfy their contractual obligations. The contractor knew that a different method was drastically needed.
In January of 2008, the contractor conducted a preliminary investigation into Critical Chain Project Management (CCPM) and how this method might improve their completion rates on scheduled maintenance. Because the contractor was minimally staffed at the OCI office, resources were already spread thin and getting thinner with each new undertaking. One important change this contractor did was to create the position of Lean Coordinator at each of the five airfields to be there full time for support. At the airfields, the cycle times were getting longer and the on-time delivery to the customer was deteriorating. In addition, the WIP of aircraft being “pushed” into the scheduled maintenance process was clearly out of control. There were unflyable aircraft stacked up on the ramps waiting to come into the hangars and every maintenance bay was full. The contractor was overwhelmed and their customer was not happy.
The contractor discovered TOC and CCPM and this is when things started to change for the better. They had heard about TOC, but didn’t realize at the time just how powerful it actually was. They hired a company, who had developed a CCPM software, to lead the implementation on one helicopter type as their prototype. The contractor learned all about things like Little’s Law and the impact of excessive WIP on Cycle Times (C/T) and Throughput (TP). So, after months of debating and convincing, the members of the OCI Group had finally convinced upper management to run a trial implementation of CCPM, but we had to decide where the most likely place should be. We initially thought the airfield that housed the Blackhawk would be a good candidate, but because of the failure of the LSS implementation I spoke of earlier, it was decided to attempt the implementation at the airfield that maintained the Chinooks.
The initial implementation was not without its problems. One of the the most difficult issues facing the implementation team was convincing the field management that in order to get more aircraft through the system faster, they had to reduce the number of aircraft being worked on (i.e. reduction of WIP). The airfield had to delay induction of more aircraft until the WIP level reached an appropriate level based upon Little’s Law. The OCI team also needed to convince the airfield leadership, that all multi-tasking had to stop since it only served to lengthen the scheduled maintenance times. In effect the OCI team had to convince field leadership that in order to speed up, they had to slow down which was counterintuitive to say the least. It took us awhile, but the leadership eventually “saw the light” and the implementation pushed forward.
In addition to convincing the field leadership of changes to be made, we also had several distinct problems with the union work force. Things like convincing the core team to develop the one single best way to execute the scheduled maintenance process. Plus, using CCPM, we had to convince these guys (and girls) to give up a large portion of their own safety times when setting their task durations. We also had to convince the leads to allow standard work to be the rule and trust that the system would work. We did this by forming “core teams” whereby the hourly members of this team (i.e. mechanics, avionics tech’s, QA inspectors, etc.) would be solely responsible for developing the “best method” to perform scheduled maintenance on the aircraft without interference from the managers and engineers. I can’t emphasize enough how important this facet of the implementation was.
And so the CCPM implementation began. Because of the length of time it took to complete scheduled maintenance on each individual aircraft in the system (i.e. as much as 2 months from start to finish on some aircraft types), we designated each aircraft as an individual project which was entered into the CCPM database by tail number. As mentioned in an earlier posting, an aircraft enters into the scheduled maintenance hangar based upon the number of flight hours logged as set by customer requirements. (e.g. after 700+ hours of flying time for Black Hawks). Scheduled maintenance, in its simplest terms, is like taking your car into the mechanic for an oil change, tune up, brake checks, etc. at regular intervals. As the customer flew the hours down, the contractor tracked the bank of hours flown and when the aircraft was nearing zero flight hours remaining, it was placed back into scheduled maintenance for servicing.
So why did the contractor elect to implement CCPM? As mentioned earlier, only modest gains in reducing the scheduled maintenance time with Lean Six Sigma were achieved. And although their cycle times did decrease, it was far from being enough to satisfy the customer's growing requirements. Because of the wars being fought in the Middle East, the demand for additional pilots was increasing and was expected to continue increasing in the foreseeable future. There was also an enormous student back-log that had grown and, in order for the student pilots to complete their training, something had to be done to increase the rate of maintained aircraft passing through the scheduled maintenance process.
Just to give you an idea of how large this backlog of students was, using 2008 as a baseline, the contractor expected close to a 15% increase in demand for 2009 and close to 40% increase in demand over 2008 in the coming year of 2010. It was anticipated that in 2011 and beyond the demand for new pilots would continue to increase even more. It’s important to remember that these increases in demand barely touched the student back-log of pilots awaiting training that are already in the system. So it should be obvious, that the contractor’s method for scheduling and executing their scheduled maintenance had to change and change it did.
The “maintenance team” at the airfield for one of the combat ready helicopters were clearly set in their ways and very good at doing what they did best, which was firefighting, short term thinking, local optimizations and building silos. In addition, morale was low among the wokers and attrition rates were high. Cycle times were long and anything out of the ordinary would send the airfield into a state of chaos, which was a recipe for being very resistant to any change. So with the business demands increasing to the point that the old ways would no longer be sufficient, something drastic needed to happen and nothing that our OCI Team had been able to do in the past had been successful enough and as a result, the old ways they knew best crept back into place. So we had our work cut out for us when we started implementing CCPM.
Being the first implementation of this magnitude at this DoD site, we all knew what the challenges would be. Fortunately the implementation team listened and did an excellent job at letting the primarily hourly core team understand that all decisions were the core team’s decisions and that they would own the processes and be responsible for both failure or success. The hourly core team embraced this new sense of ownership and enthusiastically worked to make it successful. Failure was not an option for these guys because, never before had they been given this kind of responsibility and authority.
One of the truly bright spots was having standardized work, so that the individual employees knew exactly what was expected of them and when it was expected. Since it was very organized, there was little to no chaos and everybody was “on-board” even before “going live” with the CCPM implementation. The core team truly understood how important the WIP reduction was and now believed that it was possible to achieve major, sustainable improvements to aircraft cycle time and throughput rates through their scheduled maintenance process.
The second biggest impact of the implementation was setting up what we referred to as the “Daily Walk-Abouts.” The most positive impact these walk-abouts had was that it demonstrated management’s dedication to the processes and a new interdependent, servant leader mentality instead of an adversarial relationship that existed before the CCPM implementation. The true intent of the walk-abouts was for the maintenance teams to be able to escalate any problems they couldn't solve up the various management levels for resolution.
In my next posting, I will complete this case study by revealing the results achieved on the scheduled maintenance process.