Bell Helicopter has been building choppers since 1943. The Ft. Worth, Tex. company, which is owned by Textron, makes dozens of different models, ranging from the venerable Huey, used by the U.S. military for many years, to the cutting-edge vertical take off V-22, and the completely unmanned reconnaissance Eagle Eye helicopter.
About three years ago, as part of an effort to improve the company's project management capabilities, Bell Helicopter purchased project management software from Primavera Systems, of Bala Cynwyd, Penn. But the software sat largely unused at first, says John Daniel, Bell Helicopter director of IT plans and controls.
The company began developing a standard project management strategy for all its projects, Daniel says, "one that would provide a common language, a common approach, and that would let us measure performance from project to project."
The new project management capabilities came together just in time, as Bell began tackling a major installation of i2 manufacturing software.
The implementation, which took nearly two years, involved deploying i2 software at all five of Bell Helicopter's factories, which are located in Texas and Canada.
The key to being able to use the project management software successfully was in giving project managers a step-by-step guide to each step of the process. "Some project managers didn't really have a good understanding of how you gather requirements, or how you go about building the business case," explains Daniel. The company also provided templates which project managers could use as starting points.
Opening the gate
With the templates and processes in place, Daniel says, Bell Helicopter instituted a set of "gates," or milestone reviews, for each step of the project. Before proceeding to the next step in the i2 installation process, each project team met with the stakeholders in the project, and reviewed its progress.
"If the milestones were met," says Daniel, "the stakeholders could say, you're right on target, we're going to open the gate for you to go to the next phase. If not, that gate is still closed, and the team had to go back and complete the work before moving forward."
For example, the first phase of any project at Bell Helicopter is the customer and business process definition. The project team reviews that information with the project's stakeholders, and must win their approval before it can pass through the first gate and proceed to the next step, which is an actual design.
"Instead of just starting to design something," Daniel says, "it gives key stakeholders a chance to say, you met my requirements so far, you know exactly what I need, and I think you're on the right track."
Even if the project team has to go back several times before passing the gate, says Daniel, in the long run it saves both money and aggravation. "It may take a few more cycles up front, but it's better than delivering a product that's not right, which leaves the end users and the stakeholders frustrated, and you're redoing and redoing until you get it right."
With the gate process in place, however, Bell Helicopter found that it was able to put Primavera's software, which is called TeamPlay, to work keeping projects on track.
For the I2 installation, Bell Helicopter used TeamPlay to house all its project plans, as well as timesheets from everyone involved in the project.
With everyone working on the project entering timesheet data each week, the project managers were able to see what had been accomplished, and what tasks were lagging behind, Daniel says.
A Primavera Web-based reporting tool called Primavision helped as well, by translating the timesheet data into a high-level overview, with red, green and yellow indicators showing the progress of individual tasks.
"If you're green everywhere, you're on track," says Daniel. "If there are red flags, you can drill down to see what is going on."
Now that the business processes needed to take full advantage of the software are in place, the use of TeamPlay has spread well beyond the i2 project. Daniel estimates that about 75 project managers at Bell Helicopter are using the TeamPlay tools. "All projects of any significant size in IT are managed with it," he says.