SMS Pro Aviation Safety Software Blog 4 Airlines & Airports

How to Restructure an Aviation SMS Program: 4 Steps to Prepare

Posted by Tyler Britton on Jan 9, 2017 5:58:00 AM

What Does It Mean To Restructure an Aviation SMS Program

Restructure an aviation SMS structureOccasionally aviation safety mangers will want to do a turn and pivot with the direction of their aviation SMS program. What this looks like is restructuring.

When safety managers decide to restructure an aviation SMS program it means changing and updating the bureaucratic structure of the SMS.

Usually the decision to restructure is made in an effort to:

Often, this is a reactive one. Restructuring an aviation SMS program is a daunting task, and no program we have worked with has willingly embarked on restructuring simply because it was going to beneficial sometime in the future. Of course, proper restructuring does provide long term benefits, but restructuring happens because there is immediate incentive to do so.  

The most important thing to understand about restructuring is that it is both:

Restructuring uses elements of both SMS operations. On the one hand, restructuring involves implementing entirely new changes in the form of an overhaul. At the same time, restructuring is best managed as a change management operation rather than a traditional SMS implementation.

Why Restructure Your Aviation SMS Program?

Incentives for restructuring are usually one of the following:

  • A risk management tool overhaul, such as in adopting a new aviation SMS software;
  • Safety performance has reached a plateau;
  • Aviation SMS implementation becomes increasingly more difficult because of bureaucratic weaknesses; and
  • Financial benefits for restructure outweigh costs of continuing with current SMS architecture.

All safety managers make mistakes during implementation, and some mistakes can cause chronic roadblocks in the safety program. Restructuring an aviation SMS program gives safety management an opportunity to extract the beneficial parts of the program and re-implement more troublesome areas of the program with change management techniques.

Step 1: Ask Questions, Identify Clear Goal for Restructure

Identifying a singular, overarching goal for change management is an extremely important first step in restructuring the safety program. The main goal should be a single sentence that identifies a singular purpose. Now in addition to the singular goal, or restructuring “thesis,” restructuring will surely have several different minor goals which should be accounted for as well.

Goals should be identified by asking questions about the restructure, such as:

  • What reasons instigated the desire to restructure?
  • What specific problems will the restructure ideally solve?
  • What are specific challenges involved in this restructure?
  • What tools/methods will be used to address challenges?
  • Which people/departments will be most affected by the restructure?
  • Which SMS elements will the restructure affect the most?

The key point of your responses is for them to be as specific as possible. The more specific the goals, the better you can address relevant issues and perform accurate gap analysis.

Step 2: Build Around Risk Management Tools

This is perhaps one of the most important steps in restructuring. Restructuring is the perfect opportunity to adopt an overhaul of risk management tools. In fact, the need for an overhaul of risk management tools is often the primary instigator of the restructure.  

The reason the restructure should be built around the tools is because SMS tool solutions have already built in procedures, workflows, and processes. These tools are also at the center of active safety efforts. It only makes sense therefore to build a program’s bureaucratic structure them.

When we are talking about risk management tools, we are primary talking about:

Examples of restructuring risk management tools are:

  • Adopting an aviation safety database;
  • Moving from spreadsheets and manual systems to point systems and software; and
  • Moving from point solutions to a fully integrated aviation SMS software solution.

Step 3: Perform Gap Analysis and Create Plan

With your goals in mind, the next step in restructuring is to do a gap analysis of where various elements of your program are now vs. where you goals have identified they would be after a restructure.

The purpose of this activity is:

  • Understand which SMS elements will need to be address by the restructure;
  • The scope of the change management for restructuring; and
  • Prioritization of restructuring the various elements.

After performing a gap analysis, you will need to create a change management plan, just as with any other change management operation. This plan should address:

  • Time frame and deadline goals;
  • Potential risks with restructuring;
  • Affected people, departments, bureaucratic elements, etc.; and
  • General road map for implementing changes.

Without identifying specific goals and then performing a gap analysis, it’s practically impossible to create a plan for restructuring.

Step 4: Communicate the Change Management Goals

Accompanying the creation of a plan for restructuring the SMS should be detailed communication about the restructure. This restructure can and should be communicated:

  • Via email;
  • In safety meetings; and
  • With a newsletter.

Simply communicating the restructure to employees one time, through one mode of communication, is not good enough. The change needs to be communicated multiple times through multiple mediums. Doing this ensures that:

  • Employees understand that the restructure is high priority (i.e., it’s “serious”); and
  • Employees don’t miss serious information.

Let’s be honest, there are many employees who are complacent about your SMS program. They will probably merely skim any safety material they are given. Having them review the restructure plan multiple times will help ensure that they see the most important information about changes.  

Final Thought: Perform Change Management Implementation

After steps 1-4, most of the leg work for restructuring has been done. At this point:

  • The ultimate goals of the restructure are clear and communicated;
  • The areas of the SMS that that need to be restructured have been analyzed and identified;
  • You have insured that the SMS architecture and SMS tools will be intimately integrated after the restructure; and
  • You have organized all the elements of the restructure into a plan, or “road map.”

What is left is to follow through.

If you are restructuring your SMS program, you may find the following free change management and SMS implementation content useful:

Download SMS Implementation Checklist

Download Management of Change Template

Topics: 3-Safety Assurance


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