The Real Purpose of Gap Analysis
A true aviation SMS implementation takes years and a lot of hard work to effect lasting change. SMS implementations can take considerably longer due to:
- Poor gap analyses;
- Ineffective procedures;
- Unstable safety management teams;
- Poor oversight (internal & external audits); and
- Mistaken assumptions.
Conducting a thorough and effective gap analysis is a key asset for assessing your current SMS status and creating a subsequent SMS implementation plan.
What Does a Good Aviation SMS Gap Analysis Tell You?
A good gap analysis does not simply spit out a percentage of how compliant an SMS program is, but rather it is a process of:
- Educating safety teams as to the requirements;
- Analyzing and identifying a current state of existence;
- Then identifying the desirable state of existence; and
- Identifying what is missing/needed in current states
As you are surely familiar, conducting a gap analysis is not exactly passive work. It requires the safety manager to be patient, realistic, and critical. Here are four best practices for conducting a gap analysis.
Identify All Current Resources
This one may come as a surprise to you, but it's absolutely essential. Resources is a broad spectrum word that, when it comes to conducting a gap analysis for your airline or airport, has far-reaching consequences. Resources, in this case, can be as straightforward as:
- Financial latitude and budget;
- Existing technologies;
- Existing policies; and
- Things of a more material nature.
These are the things we tend to think about when we think about resources. They are readily quantifiable, tangible, and time and time again, safety managers do a great job of assessing them and then moving on.
But the types of resources that will have a more direct bearing on the ability to implement efficiently are hard to quantify, and assessing them properly takes some shrewdness on the part of the safety manager.
This is because they are of a more qualitative nature, such as:
- Management support of SMS
- Employee support of SMS
- Working relationships at all levels of workplace
- Level of training
Basically, anything involving the abilities, attitudes, and interpersonal relationships within the workplace. Even with state of the art technologies and an expansive budget, if the workplace is not open to the SMS and/or interrelationships are poor, SMS implementation will consequently face a serious first hurdle./p>
Albert Einstein once said that if he had an hour to cut down a tree, he would spend 59 minutes sharpening the ax - consider identifying quantifiable and qualitative resources as sharpening the ax.
It will inform your gap analysis throughout the entire process.
Understand SMS Requirements
When conducting an aviation SMS gap analysis, the tendency is to jump right in and review FAA, EASA, and Transport Canada documentation. While it's certainly good to be aware of the language and concepts contained in such documentation, they often merely contain the SMS components and elements' definitions.
Often times, such reviews can be cursory. Documentation should be reviewed thoroughly - to the point where the elements are interpreted correctly. However, understanding the SMS documentation is no substitute for performing a gap analysis, which will much more comprehensive and effective for setting SMS implementation goals and objectives.
In other words, reviewing documentation is a good start to understanding the basic requirements.
The more pressing matter is interpreting the basic requirements as to how they fit within your airline, airport or maintenance organization. Every operator is different, and requirements will probably appear in different forms at various workplaces. We often hear the nebulous phrase, "depending on the complexity of your operation."
So proper understanding is not simply the rote memory of definitions and various documentation elements, but rather how those elements manifest in your work environment.
Set Realistic Expectations
Knowing requirements and your resources is an important part of using your gap analysis to set realistic expectations. Realistic expectations are a combination of double checking your analysis and then reassessing after implementation.
Realistic expectations must incorporate-
-that are used for implementation. Proper gap analysis tools, such as gap analysis checklists and gap analysis software, will help guide you in these areas to set proper goals within a reasonable time frame.
But what differentiates realistic from unrealistic expectations?
Knowing the difference will entail:
- Looking critically at your assessment of current resources to see if they match your goals
- Double checking that goals fulfill SMS requirements (desirable state)
- Realizing that reaching goals takes time, unexpected things happen and that your plan should account for this
Finally, make sure you set realistic expectations will involve consistently following up to ensure that your schedule is being followed. Of course, we are all human and there are many factors outside of our control - so the schedule will slip.
That's okay, and to be expected.
However, if the schedule is always slipping and falling further and further behind, it's not an indication that you failed, just simply that the expectations and goals need revising.
Realistic Schedules and Risk Planning
While this ties in with setting realistic expectations, too often SMS implementation schedules do not incorporate the fact that the unexpected always happens.
Sometimes this can be attributed to what I call magical thinking, which looks something like "If my SMS implementation plan is good enough, it will be impervious to unexpected factors." It can also be attributed to the fact that the designated safety manager has other duties that are first priorities such as a pilot, etc., and does not have the experience or appropriate aviation SMS training to adequately manage a multi-year project.
When implementation schedules do not account for the fact that things will happen and interfere with the plan, they will always fall behind even if the goals that were set are appropriate.
Therefore, realistic schedules based on proper analysis will always additionally:
- Plan for "what if" scenarios
- Assume that there will be setbacks.
It's similar to the old adage that if you think something will take an hour, plan for an hour and a half.
An aviation SMS gap analysis is hard because of it so comprehensive. It involves& adequately understanding:
- Where you are
- Where you need to be
- The appropriate method and steps to get there
- And how long each step will take
Conducting a thoughtful, realistic gap analysis can do wonders for more efficiently implementing an SMS program. Furthermore, it gives you an opportunity to clarify for yourself and others as to the relationship between the SMS system and workplace.
Having the proper aviation gap analysis tools can be instrumental in conducting excellent gap analyses.