Let the Bowtie in Aviation SMS Make Your Job Easier
I love the Bowtie.
It’s logical, lightweight, and delivers a ton of pertinent information that no other tools in your aviation risk management toolbox can deliver.
I've seen very few aviation service providers with fewer than 100 employees use the bowtie in their aviation safety management systems (SMS). This does not mean that smaller operators will not benefit from conducting a bowtie analysis.
Smaller operators are not required to have sophisticated SMS. Consequently, the only smaller operators that I've seen use the bowtie are those flying employees for the oil and gas companies.
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A simple Bowtie can summarize an issue or scenario as well as a 3-page report. But, in my opinion, what really makes the Bowtie so useful is that it’s easy to be creative with it.
That’s an elaborate way of saying that you can use the Bowtie in many different situations. Moreover, because it’s visual, it’s just as easy to comprehend for people of:
- Different backgrounds and experience;
- Different levels of intelligence; and
- Different levels of education.
A report, Risk Analysis Chart, trending chart, or other risk management tool simply cannot match this kind of versatility. If you aren’t already using a Bowtie, then I highly recommend you get started. If you are already using it, here are 3 ways you probably aren’t but should be.
1 – Demonstrate the Importance of Compliance
I hardly need to tell you how important aviation SMS compliance is. You are working with it every day – perhaps to the point of exasperation. For countless organizations, part of this exasperation is trying to convince other employees and managers that:
- Yes, it is more than “just another rule”;
- Yes, it is important; and
- Yes, there are actually good reasons for us to make an effort to be compliant.
Now, we have for the most part seen two ways managers deal with compliance in their organization:
- It’s the rule, so just do it; and
- It’s the rule, and here are a couple of reasons we need to do it.
The first point is not exactly conducive to a mature safety culture, nor is it forthcoming with helpful incentives, though it is to the point. The second point is certainly much better, but for the most part, you are just giving a couple of paragraphs to employees who – let’s face it – are probably only marginally interested.
For both of these reasons, using the Bowtie is amazingly effective for demonstrating why aviation SMS compliance is important. It’s visual and easy to understand, it speaks for itself and gives plenty of reasons (without all of the unnecessary “explaining” that will tune them out). Here’s a great example Bowtie template for demonstrating compliance:
Where applicable, you could plug in your organization-specific corresponding points in 20 minutes and have something concrete and valuable to deliver to all stakeholders that would be significantly more effective than a paragraph about the new legislation.
As we have seen with this example, the bowtie becomes a safety promotion tool.
Related Aviation SMS Safety Promotion Articles
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2 – Using During Aviation SMS Risk Impact Analysis
Evaluating the end potential of certain risks when they collide – or “line-up” to use the Swiss Cheese Reason Model – can be a nebulous endeavor at best. This is because too often Risk Impact analysis in aviation SMS makes managers feel like they need to jump from A to Z in one fell swoop. Know what I mean?
The dangers here are numerous – to name a few:
- Incorrect assumptions about the flow of events in a scenario; which can lead to
- Arriving at irrelevant Impact conclusions; and
- Coming up with false causes, the mistake here is that all too often managers start with Events - a good example would be called “Lack of Training” a cause, when in reality that is a result of “Human Error”.
Using the Bowtie for risk impact analysis in aviation SMS avoids these and similar errors. For one, Bowties force to you literally create the flow of all causes/events/impacts visually together, the benefit being that your erroneous assumption about the flow of events will stick out like a sore thumb.
When you do this same activity in paragraph form, the basic fact is that it’s much harder to spot those errors because all the pieces are not together, and it is not visual. Likewise, the conclusions about Impacts have a much higher likelihood of being closer to the mark if your events also make sense.
3 – Cost Impact Scenario Analysis
I’d like to branch off of Risk Impact Analysis – which is essentially what Cost Impact Analysis is. However, we live in a world where lives are, unfortunately, often measured by the bottom line – reputation damage and subsequent revenue loss. Thus, getting the impact of Costs right is critical.
So say your accountable executive comes up to you and says, “What kind of damages are we looking at if X happens?”
Scenario 1: You could throw some number out there, like say 300 million. You could be spot on, or you could be wildly off the mark. Regardless, your boss is probably going to say, “How the heck did you come up with that number?” And then you fumble around listing a bunch of reasons.
Scenario 2: You tell him to give you 20 minutes, and you map the Main Event, some preceding likely causes, and proceeding events. For one, now it’s much easier to say something like, “Okay, X happening will most likely lead to consequences A $100 million and consequence B $200 million for a total of $300 million.” This number could still be wildly off – though it’s probably a much safer bet than coming up with it off the cuff – now it looks (and probably is) much more legitimate.
In Scenario 2:
- You give plenty of reasons for the final cost impact;
- Your reasons are logical and easy to read; and
- Your boss has something tangible to use at his/her leisure.
Most importantly to you, it makes you look like you know what you’re talking about. Bowtie allows users an intuitive view of the interaction between hazards, top-level risk scenarios, and risk controls. As we have seen, some interesting use cases that can expand your use of the tool in your risk management processes.
Related Aviation Risk Management Articles
- 4 Elements of Safety Risk Management (SRM)
- 4 Pillars | What Is Safety Risk Management
- Most Common Aviation Risk Management Challenges at Airlines & Airports
Final Thought: Resources for Using the Bowtie
At the very least, you can create a Bowtie with a pencil and a piece of paper. No aviation safety management software, no special program. Just your brain and ability to analyze a situation's flow of events.
Of course, the pen and paper way will take you a bit longer. Fortunately, PDF templates and online resources are also readily available. SMS Pro has a module available to clients that will generate Bowties for you. If you need a bowtie analysis tool in your SMS database, then SMS Pro can help.
Check out SMS Pro demo videos and see how you can tie in a Bowtie. Yes, there is a Bowtie tool in SMS Pro.
Last updated November 2023.