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Driving sustainable change in the Project Management culture across Airbus

Airbus has gone through some significant change in recent years. It is interesting to see it has embraced the transformation at the heart of the business – its people.

Two critical reports published in 2007/08 on the efficiency of project delivery found that quite a few of these projects were late and over budget. The root causes for this were often project management challenges, technical issues, talent shortage, supply chain challenges and politics.

Airbus has a development path for staff involved in project management and program management office. But, there was a need to establish processes and tools to help embrace cultural change better. Mark Robinson, Head of PM People, Airbus, explains, “The need to embrace cultural change was driven from board level which helped it become an integral part of the working in Airbus with a long term vision. “

Airbus launched two key drivers to facilitate change across the whole group – Product Categorization and PM Certification. Product Categorization assessed every project against 16 weighted criteria. The aim was to assess the projects before the launch stage as these processes often impacted PM certification and Earned Value of the project and allowed project leaders to gain a better understanding of the project and challenges involved.  Project Categorization: the score differentiates five different levels as illustrated in the image.

Project prioritization image

There was a need to drive a dedicated development path for the PMOs and project leader. They needed to set a strategic direction and harmonize group policies on project and program management which wasn’t done before. Five levels of PM certification were identified looking at the various experiences people had within project management i.e. Iron-Bronze-Silver-Gold-Platinum.

To support this Airbus also set up an Airbus Group PM Council and a Steering Board.
Airbus introduced the PM Certification to facilitate cultural change across the organisation and ensure that PM Certification aligned with the project categorisation process. The focus was not just on the PMOs or project leaders but the wider population who enable successful project delivery..

Based on the individual’s experience in Project Management, Product and Technical management multi-function and multi-cultural experience, and also the finance and business related experience; they needed to select the appropriate PM certification level.

Those who undertook this certification were expected to complete a dossier that was then assessed by an independent panel which would advise on any gaps in their learning before the certificate was granted. It was absolutely critical for Airbus to support its staff throughout this entire exercise and there were many communication events to help with this. Post certification individuals became part of the PM Professional Certification population reporting into the Airbus Group PM Steering Board.
There was no pressure for staff to complete this training; it was more of a need-based requirement- they did it when they thought they had the experience, needed the training and wanted to be on the career path to which they aspire. Staff had support and continuous communication with the panel that helped them throughout the process in achieving the right level of PM certification as well as categorization. Since Airbus is very people-focused, the individuals got allocated to specific development plans on completing the certification.

The Airbus PM Professional certification differentiated five distinct levels. For each certification level the minimum competencies were defined which combined specific units of PM related training and experience. This corresponded with the various training levels and certification, namely Platinum, Gold, Silver, Bronze and Iron.

The existence of several major programs where heads of program and chief engineers were certified and leading by example, has significantly helped to change the mind-set within the company and made it easier to drive change. The certifications helped take away the perception that PMOs are just project administrators, but are a navigator within a project.

In addition to a PM certification , Airbus has mandated a broad range of training that people need to undertake to get a wider view of project management. This could include contractual management, configuration management or similar disciplines. It is carefully communicated to staff that the PM certification is not to assess them for promotional reasons but for their own personal development. This process includes; follow-on learning measures, confidential feedback and ways in which they could transfer the learning straight back to business and develop their own personal development plan.

Thus, Airbus has adopted a methodology that has a clear life-cycle, blended learning checklists and tool-kits for Project Management, Lean and Change Management. Through a continuous learning, and professional development, cycle of the PM population, Airbus has found a way to keep pace with advances in technology and increased project complexity.

Making Projects Fly (#AirbusMPF) is an upcoming event hosted by eVa and Steve Wake – an internationally acknowledged expert on Earned Value Management along with Airbus in Toulouse on 23-24 October 2014. #AirbusMPF will provide delegates with two days of networking, education and conversation accompanied by great food and music. More information here.


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