Why Change Management in Aviation SMS Is Important
Management of change in aviation SMS programs is a complex undertaking because so often it involves performing in-depth risk assessment analysis on current and hypothetical
- environments, and
If change management is not performed thoroughly, organizations place themselves at the mercy of unexpected events, as well as the overlooked deterioration of existing controls due to the change.
Management of change can cover anything in an aviation safety management system (SMS), such as:
- Regulatory changes;
- New routes, vehicles, or aircraft;
- Organizational restructuring; and
- Changes in integral procedures or management personnel (such as a new Safety Manager).
The list goes on, but the fact is that internal and external environments are constantly changing and change management is how aviation SMS programs adapt. Hence the change management process of proactively (i.e. ahead of time) identifying potential safety concerns.
As a part of this process, there are 4 things you should know about management of change in aviation SMS programs.
1 – Aviation SMS Change Management Principles
At the most basic level, you need to know:
- How you are performing the change management; and
- Why you are performing it.
On the second point, we aren’t talking about the obvious, explicit “why” – which is to identify how the change will affect the existing safety program and what new safety concerns the change will introduce. We are talking about the underlying goals of all management of change (MOC) operations. In every MOC, you need to be clear that you:
- Are assessing current safety culture;
- Need to gain top-level endorsement;
- Are stating the case for change;
- Are communicating the plan;
- Need to identify threats;
- Will necessarily involve everyone; and
- Most importantly, are creating ownership of changes.
While I realize the above points, which are interpreted from ACT’s Change Management Principles, are terribly conceptual, it’s your responsibility to make each item obvious while performing each management of change operation.
2 – How to Manage the Management of Change Process
It’s critical that your management of change process is consistent each time, both in terms of analyzing changes and implementing them. When your process is inconsistent or waivers from MOC to MOC, so too will the effectiveness of your change management operations.
Here are 4 simple ways to manage the management of change process:
- Standardize your change management methodologies, so that every step of your process is documented and followed in the same order every time;
- Employ your best risk analysis strategies on the safety case involved with the change – I personally recommend an in depth bowtie analysis to cover all bases of threats, events, controls, and impacts;
- Document everything to ensure that all checklist are completed, all approvals given, and, before implementation, you have a nice overview of the entire process - thus making it easier to spot any holes in your process; and
- Implement the change in small, easy to digest tasks, such as by using a handful of corrective preventative actions to attack each piece of the needed change.
3 – How You Find New Hazards
Remember that one of the primary purposes of change management is to identify threats that the change will bring. Which also means that during MOC you have a golden opportunity to identify new hazards. I particularly think that in real world scenarios for airline SMS and airport SMS change management attempt to expose threats and root causes.
Going into change management with the mindset that one of your primary goals is to identify new root cause threats will allow your change management to be more specific than, say, if you carry the mindset that change management's goal is to identify Top Events (i.e. the point at which the safety of a situation becomes out of control).
During management of change in aviation SMS, safety managers should specifically look at the change management in terms of new threats introduced to the safety program because of the change, as well as how currently identified threats change.
4 – Opportunity to Examine Existing Risk Controls
In addition to identifying new hazards, management of change in aviation SMS should inherently be an analysis of existing risk controls. This is because during hazard analysis, looking at threats without viewing them in relation to risk controls is like playing a game of basketball without a backboard - you can still do it, but it will not reflect actual performance of day to day operations. When you identify a hazard you should make it common practice to also see how effective the relevant risk control is.
For example, let's say you are an airport and you are going to upgrade all computers to the latest version of your operating system. One threat is that your airports entire server base will become unstable with the update and render the airport offline. If you take that at face value, that threat looks pretty serious. But if, at the same time, you take into account that one of your controls is that you already have a redundant (backup) server in place that will automatically take over should the main server goes down, that new threat (unstable server) is negligible.
One of this reasons examining existing risk controls at the same time as identifying new hazards is so important during change management is because, as you saw in the example, it clarifies which new threats are most important to your change.