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4 Best Aviation SMS Gap Analysis Strategies for SMS Implementations

Posted by Tyler Britton on Jun 9, 2019 10:00:00 AM

The Real Purpose of Gap Analysis

4 Best Aviation SMS Gap Analysis Strategies for SMS Implementations

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;
  • Resistance from upper management;
  • Poor oversight (internal & external audits); and
  • Mistaken assumptions.

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Conducting a thorough and effective gap analysis provides a strong deliverable for the safety team and management. This gap analysis report becomes a key asset for assessing your current SMS status and creating a subsequent SMS implementation plan.

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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 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

If your regulatory agency strictly follows ICAO's SMS guidance, then SMS auditors are going to review your operation using a templated tool, such as the ICAO's aviation safety gap analysis model. In this case, your desired state should be based on ICAO requirements.

As you are surely familiar with, 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

Airline and airport gap analysis offers safety teams an insight into their SMS program status

This one may come as a surprise to you. The team responsible for conducting the gap analysis must have enough organizational knowledge to be cognizant of all available resources.

"Resources" is a broad spectrum word that, when it comes to conducting a gap analysis for your aviation organization, 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 efficiently implement an aviation SMS are hard to quantify, and assessing them properly takes some shrewdness on the part of the safety manager.

This is because they are more qualitative, such as:

  • Management support of SMS
  • Employee support of SMS
  • Working relationships at all levels of workplace
  • Level of training

Basically, anything involving 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 SMS and/or interrelationships are poor, SMS implementation will consequently face a serious first hurdle.

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. This process will set the stage for your gap analysis throughout the entire process.

Related Aviation SMS Gap Analysis Articles

Download ICAO Gap Analysis Checklist

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.

Oftentimes, 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 be 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 operations. Every operator is different, and requirements will probably appear in different forms at various workplaces. We often hear the nebulous phrase, "depending on the size and 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

Set realistic expectations after you complete the aviation SMS gap analysis at your airline or airport

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-

  • Technologies
  • Strategies
  • Processes

-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, making 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.

Related Articles on Aviation SMS Goals and Objectives

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 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.

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Aviation SMS Gap Analysis Repeated Over the Years

Airport ground crew

An aviation SMS gap analysis is hard to complete by oneself because it is 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. Furthermore, it gives you an opportunity to clarify for yourself and others the relationship between SMS and the workplace.

For immature SMS implementations, a gap analysis is typically performed only once, and this occurs right after the accountable executive gives his blessing for the formal SMS implementation to begin. What safety managers seldom realize is that the gap analysis can also be used as an internal quality assurance tool to monitor SMS implementation progress.

When operators can easily compare two-gap analysis activities over time, this becomes a very powerful tool to demonstrate continuous improvement of the SMS. How is this done? Very easily, but SMS Pro does it automatically for you.

If you wish to map or chart gap analysis progress, sum up the scores in each section and then average them for each year you conducted the gap analysis. List the section names and average scores by year. Then use your favorite charting tool and generate the report. While this seems like a lot of work, this is simply one task that an SMS database can do for you.

There is a tendency for safety managers to do the gap analysis and then acquire SMS database tools once they learn the extent of the SMS documentation requirements. This is a better strategy than continuing to use spreadsheets to manage all SMS documentation.

If you don't understand the SMS documentation requirements, or if the accountable executive pushes back on getting the proper tools to manage the SMS, then I suggest that you explain to the accountable executive that these SMS documentation requirements require long term tracking and trend analysis.

The accountable executive is responsible for ensuring your aviation SMS is properly implemented and performing in all areas of the organization. There is also the expectation that the accountable executive and the safety team regularly review the organization's safety performance. When necessary, the accountable executive must be prepared to direct actions necessary to address substandard safety performance. This becomes nearly impossible when using spreadsheets.

How much safety can your company afford? This is a common question and the accountable executive is in the best position to make this decision. Can the company afford $200 per month? More? Less?

When the safety team analyzes possible SMS database solutions to manage SMS data, consider the entire value proposition. What are you getting?

  • SMS data storage;
  • Safety reporting system;
  • Risk management system with industry-approved workflows;
  • SMS performance monitoring dashboards;
  • Auditing system;
  • SMS training system;
  • Web server, email server, and database server;
  • Staff to provide updated and security patches to server; and much more.

When an operator considers the individual components of an SMS database offering, the cost appears considerably reasonable.

Related Articles on Using Spreadsheets in Aviation SMS

Final Thoughts on Gap Analysis

Having the proper aviation gap analysis tools can be instrumental in conducting excellent gap analyses. If you are starting your gap analysis, you may want to consider an SMS database that contains all the moving parts for your future SMS.

Below are some demo videos of a low-cost, full-featured SMS database. SMS Pro contains a gap analysis tool with every product offering. Please watch these short demo videos to learn whether we are a good fit for your company.

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Last updated May 2024.

Topics: 3-Safety Assurance

Site content provided by Northwest Data Solutions is meant for informational purposes only. Opinions presented here are not provided by any civil aviation authority or standards body.



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