By Guest Blogger Tony Oliver, Penny Wise Consulting Group
This blog post first appeared on the Penny Wise Consulting Group’s blog and was posted here with permission. The original post can be found here.
Ah, flying. The friendly skies. The luxury aboard the plane. The jet-set and the glamour. All gone.
Nowadays, few experiences elicit the same sort of hatred as commercial aviation. Beyond the vitriol, the stale pretzels, and the harsh treatment from flight attendants, though, there are many project management tactics at play.
According to USA Today, an average day has 1,000 commercial flights over the U.S., mostly distributed across the major ~9 domestic airlines. Major carriers like American Airlines, United Airlines, and Delta Airlines each boast over 200 regularly-scheduled segments, each replete with its own challenges and intricacies.
Despite the obvious similarities (fly a large metal bird from point A to point B), each flight should be seen as a stand-alone project. Though it may be regularly-scheduled and often repeated daily, each one represents a specific, time-boxed instance.
While it does share various elements with its predecessors and successors (such as origin, destination, expected route, etc.) it is very much a different iteration every day. Much like publishing a daily newspaper, a monthly newsmagazine, or hosting a yearly event like the Super Bowl or the Oscars, the blueprint may exist, but its execution may be wholly different. Here’s how:
- The “project team.” Some pilots, co-pilots, and flight attendants may be assigned routes that repeat themselves every week, as circuits begin and end. To paraphrase Jon Bon Jovi, “it’s all the same, only the names have changed.” Much like a professional sports team or even an award-winning theater ensemble, the composition of the crew may carry over to a large degree, but rarely does it reach 100%. Nevertheless, the accumulated knowledge, captured as best known methods, checklists, or even desk manuals, can be reused to the benefit of would-be successors or apprentices.
- The passengers are different. With an average plane carrying 200 souls, things are bound to go awry. Babies, first-time fliers, and stranded connecting passengers can all wreak havoc on the best-laid plans. Much like a project has contingency and risk management plans to address what could “feasibly” go wrong, a plane’s crew has multiple ways to address—and ideally remedy— any misalignments between the project plan and reality.
- The conditions may be different. Yes, point A to point B is typically best served in a straight line…but does it always go that way? Turbulence, traffic, and unforeseen circumstances like airspace closures can make plans just another example of wishful thinking.
- Risks from associated processes, Part 1. A snafu with catering, unexpected downtime by the TSA screening machines, or a broken luggage conveyor belt can prevent the loading and unloading of the passengers. These are shared risks not “owned” by the airline, but with a strong direct dependency. Contingency plans show their value here, shedding any would-be “luxury” label to rightfully claim the “necessity” one.
- Risks from associated processes, Part 2. The above are somewhat related to the airport, but what happens if the issue stems from outside of it? A massive accident on the freeway or the spontaneous protests against President Trump’s immigration order would deter thousands of would-be passengers from boarding their flights. Deciding what degree of delay is acceptable (flying without the passengers seems silly, but affecting subsequent flights from destination cities may affect a much larger portion of the customer base) is part finesse and part analytics— but 100% necessary for proper project management.
Even if your next flight is for pleasure, keep your “project manager hat” on and count the many instances of project management. Like hidden Mickeys scattered throughout Disney World, you will be amazed at how much is in plain view when you are really looking for it!
About the Author: Tony Oliver is a project manager by trade, a marketing guru by profession, and a lifelong learner from birth. His best trait is an inquisitive mind, which drives his desire to understand not just the “what” but also the “how” and more importantly, the “why” and “why not?” Tony is experienced in supply, pricing, demand, and consumption analysis and holds an MBA in marketing from a top 20 school (UNC Chapel Hill) and an undergraduate English Literature degree from Georgetown University. With 15+ years of experience with Intel and Cisco, Tony is fully bilingual (English, Spanish) with a working knowledge of French, as well as a seasoned public speaker and instructor of Project Management and Presentation Skills courses.