Airbus is improving its project management standards

Kevin Baker, Head, Project & Programme Management Operations, AirbusChange is hard and project managers don’t have the skills to do it all themselves. In my experience, we prefer to help others implement change. Kevin Baker, Head, Project & Programme Management Operations at Airbus took on the challenge to change the way they manage their projects. I spoke with him about how he implemented culture change at the company.
Kevin, why did Airbus decide to improve the project management culture?
We knew we had to improve. There are many studies that look at projects and programmes in the aerospace/defense sectors. They all tell a similar story. It is unfortunate that many A&D projects have a history involving being late or over budget. This might have been acceptable in the past, when the industry was dependent on large government-funded ‘prestige’ projects. Although the Concord programme is not new, it is a good example. There are many more recent examples. We know we need to improve. Our customers expect more and our shareholders demand more.
How did you do it?
The Centre of Competence for Project & Programme Management (CoC P&PM) was established with a mission to improve project management culture. This organisation has created a variety of improvement levers over the past three years. We have developed a career path for project manager, introduced an internal certification process so that junior project managers can see how they progress, introduced a larger range of project management training with an emphasis on soft skills, and introduced a standardised set project management methods and tools that cover all aspects of project management – cost management and schedule management.
Wow, that sounds very comprehensive. I love the idea of career paths. Please tell me more about the certification and training.
Each project manager can apply for certification at a specific level. There are five levels, starting at the entry level of ‘Iron’ and going up to the most senior level at ‘platinum. Each level requires a mixture of experience in a variety of areas. We believe that a person must have had a variety of trainings and have the necessary experience. This tool is used regularly at Airbus and is essential for the development of skilled project managers at all levels within our company. It serves as a powerful guide for project managers’ personal development.
This sounds very thorough. Project managers will gain a solid foundation in many skills through your program. The whole thing required a lot of standardised processes to be implemented. I would love to hear how you know when you have achieved what you set out. What is your definition of good looks?
This is something we have been thinking about for a long time. It is difficult to define and measure. In general, ‘good’ means that all key players at Airbus think and act in a project-management manner. It is just part of how we work.
This is a great definition. However, it must have been a long and difficult journey. What was the most difficult part of creating a culture shift?
The most difficult thing is to keep the momentum going. While you can introduce new processes, tools, and methods, it is not enough to change the culture. I don’t mean to replace them but to change their thinking and behavior. We must make project management part of daily life so that people don’t even think about it. This is the only way that culture can be changed, but it requires a lot of energy. Relax the pressure.