This Project Manager’s Workflow Hack Transformed How GE Builds Airplane Engines
On any given day at GE Aviation, there are thousands of engine parts in circulation. Finding used parts has often meant calling up facility managers and asking them to physically search for material, sometimes to the point of walking to the shelves to see what was on hand. When a replacement request came in, there was no efficient way to sort through the materials available, stalling our process to get that plane back in the air.
This didn’t sit well with me. In a past life, I flew B-1s for the U.S. Air Force, where I provided Close Air Support for friendly troops in enemy contact. My training and experience helped me learn to diagnose a problem quickly, consider the possible solutions, and take action.
When I tried to do something similar at GE, my goal was simply to make the lives of my team members a little easier. Instead—and to my surprise—the simple workflow tool I created has changed the way the our aviation division operates.
If you’ve flown in the last year, chances are good that you were on a plane powered by one of GE’s engines—which are real labors of love. Hundreds of hours of work go into each one, from creating parts to assembly to testing. At the same time, we’re taking calls from customers and fielding requests for servicing and maintenance. Every second lost and every unfulfilled request impacts the level of service we’re able to provide. With so many things going on at at once, time management couldn’t be more critical.
I’m fine with this. In fact, I’m excited by it. The key, as I see it, is to regularly revisit the primary use of the tool and its impact on the users it was originally developed for—even as others put it to new uses. As their needs change, the tool should change, too. For me, though, keeping that original mission in sight is important. You shouldn’t get caught up chasing good ideas and over-complicating something that’s already proven itself useful.
Probably your team isn’t trying to track thousands of spare airplane engine parts. But maybe you’re trying to locate specific information from within your company, or you’re trying to cut down the time spent on administrative tasks. As you look to tackle your own challenges, it’s important to remember a few lessons I learned watching my software tool catch on at GE Aviation and beyond.
First, take good notes. Make sure that the process, adoption, and results are all well documented, even as you experiment and tinker. That way you’ll have a drawing board to go back to if you need to, and (if it’s an immediate success and you don’t) you’ll be able to demonstrate the value of your idea.
Second, be careful of implementing any change that might erode the value of your original solution. And finally, don’t just build it and step away once you see it working. It’s important to regularly evaluate the purpose and the focus of your idea or solution. As circumstances evolve, your idea needs to evolve with them. Today’s inventory tracker is tomorrow’s…something else. That’s something innovators look forward to.
Paul Thienprayoon is CFM56 Engine Fulfillment Project Management Lead in GE Aviation’s Junior Officer Leadership Program.