Monday, June 3, 2013

Avoid 8 Common Mistakes in Aviation SMS Implementations

Eight Common Mistakes in Aviation SMS Implementations

Implementing an aviation SMS program can be a complex undertaking, often taking three to five years to complete. However it does not mean that your SMS implementation will have little chance of succeeding, or even struggle. SMS Pro has a large network of aviation SMS consulting companies with extensive experience in managing complex SMS implementations. Each of these SMS consultants are committed to providing customers, partners, and interested parties with their expertise in every way possible.

aviation safety management system SMS software implementation NorthWest Data Solutions develops and supports SMS Pro, the popular Web-based aviation safety management software. We've found the best way to manage endless amounts of aviation safety related data is through a centralized database using a Web interface. The Web interface securely allows for iPad, iPhone, desktop, laptop access to your aviation SMS data.

Here are eight of most common mistakes made during SMS implementations.

1) Inadequate SMS Requirements Review

aviation safety management system SMS software implementation
Most safety managers are very conscientious and jump right into the task head first. They start reading ICAO, FAA, Transport Canada, CASA, EASA documentation about "What is an Aviation Safety Management System." Casually, (often mentally) they think about their existing business processes as they review the civil aviation authorities' documentation. These reviews are frequently inadequate and much of this SMS documentation contains only the SMS components and elements' definitions.

While the CAA documentation is a good start, it is recommended that a gap analysis be performed  followed by creating the SMS implementation plan. To be effective, the SMS implementation plan must contain adequately defined objectives, realistic implementation schedules, required resources and roles and responsibilities of the SMS implementation team.

Lesson Learned: The gap analysis and SMS implementation plan exercise provides an excellent learning and planning resource for the SMS implementation team. SMS Pro has exceptional gap analysis and SMS implementation plan software tools. Starting at $100 monthly, SMS Pro's suite of aviation SMS software tools is enough for airlines and airports of all sizes.

2) Failure to Set Realistic Expectations 

aviation safety management system SMS software implementation
Communicate Exceptions!
Aviation SMS implementations often ignore or fail to set proper expectations at all levels of the organization.  Realistic expectations can only be set by having adequate understanding of all of the major technologies and processes involved. This understanding takes us back to the gap analysis and SMS implementation plan previously mentioned.

Lesson Learned: Expectations are best managed by communication. Regular reviews to managers on SMS implementation progress is important. When schedules slip, don't keep this information hidden or take this as a personal indicator that you failed. Almost every SMS implementation has schedule slippage. In fact, I've never seen one that followed the schedule perfectly. Remember, life happens. Environmental influences challenge managers' abilities to implement an aviation SMS program with finite resources.

3) Risk Planning Not Integrated Into SMS Implementation Plan

Incorporating risk plans within airline or airport's overall SMS implementation plan remains vital to the success of SMS implementation projects. Most SMS implementations, especially at small to mid-size airlines and airports, exclude risk planning. This is perhaps because safety managers are pilots, mechanics, etc., and performing safety manager tasks as an additional "duty." Furthermore, they are not commonly trained to manage long-term, multi-year projects. As a result, many safety managers fail to meet SMS implementation plan schedules simply because they neglected to conduct and factor in the "what if" scenarios.

4) Insufficient Resources Available to Airline/Airport Safety Team

aviation safety management system SMS software implementation airlines, airports fbos, mros, flight schools, amos
Many aviation SMS implementations underestimate resources required for successful SMS implementations on this multi-year project. Both human and financial resources are usually insufficient. Most often underestimated is required availability of functional and business users as they are repeatedly called to perform on safety review committees, attend initial and recurring SMS training, or learn new software technologies to manage mountains of available SMS data.

Lesson Learned: SMS programs generate heaps of useful data. Aggregating and analyzing data is a requirement in Safety Assurance activities of safety management systems. Without proper tools, safety managers are unable to perform their required tasks. We've seen safety managers spend weeks preparing reports that should have been available with the click of a mouse. Aviation SMS software tools save time and money. SMS software tools are often the cheapest component in implementing a successful aviation SMS program.

If you are not generating data, you have not successfully implemented your SMS program.

5) Unrealistic SMS Implementation Plan Schedule

One of the most common mistakes found in almost every SMS implementation plan schedule is setting of unrealistic SMS implementation dates. In many cases, end dates are chosen before the entire SMS implementation plan has been developed. Consequently, when SMS implementation plans are being scheduled, they must logically fit into an arbitrarily chosen time line. Optimistic safety managers will often think they can do the entire project in two years. After all, they are over-achievers. What they often neglect to account is that they are moving an entire organization and their airline or airport is naturally resisting change every step of the way.

Working toward end dates based on activity estimates will help provide you with more accurate estimates. Remember, review the entire scope of your SMS implementation and understand the requirements before pulling a fixed number from the air, such as two years, three years, ect. There are many aviation SMS activities that can be tackled simultaneously, such as implementing hazard reporting systems, drafting policies and procedures, composing duties & requirements of key safety personnel, initial training...

6) Inadequate Aviation SMS Specific Training

aviation safety management system SMS software implementation
Adequate aviation SMS training is vital to the success of your airline or airport's SMS implementation. Aviation SMS training is often too short, too broad or improperly conducted.  Proper aviation SMS related training leads to higher support and acceptance across the entire airline or airport employee base, ranging from line workers all the way up to top management. Proper training remains one of the most important aspects of successful SMS implementations.

7) Insufficient Internal Auditing and Review

Every aviation SMS implementation activity requires some degree of testing to ensure regulatory requirements are met. However, a common mistake is to perform an internal audit of the airline or airport SMS implementation by members familiar with the safety program. A best practice is to have your SMS implementation reviewed by a third party, whether it is an IS-BAO auditor, client auditor or the civil aviation authority auditor. If you are waiting for the CAA auditor to review your SMS implementation, I think there may be a more proactive approach to determine whether your airline or airport is adequately implementing your SMS program.

8) Inadequate SMS Data Collection and Conversion Plans

Collecting and converting aviation safety data from existing systems is often started too late and lacks any plan to ensure accuracy of the data. The plan must be developed early and there must be a focus on accuracy. The sooner you get this done, the more value your airline or airport will derive from reports. This item only applies if you are upgrading your aviation SMS software to modern software based on best practices. As an example, MS Excel and FileMaker Pro are not recommended platforms for managing years worth of aviation SMS data.

About NWDS - founded in 2003 by six software engineers, NorthWest Data Solutions (NWDS) provides custom computer programming and systems design services. NWDS creates many types of software, including e-commerce, financial, defense, engineering, logistics, aviation and more. In 2007, NWDS developed SMS Pro™ a web based SMS application that supports an organization's overall SMS through safety reporting, safety documentation, safety risk management and safety assurance. SMS Pro™ is currently used by aviation organizations in the U.S., Canada, Asia, Latin America, Africa and the Middle East to help manage their SMS programs. NWDS continues to support SMS Pro™ and add new functionality. NWDS offers custom contract programming services in the U.S. and Canada and is managed by Chris Howell, one of the founders. Their headquarters is in Anchorage, Alaska. For information on NWDS visit their website at and to learn more about SMS Pro™.