Founded in 1935, Bell Helicopter has a long history in aviation. An industry leader with unmatched name recognition, the company—which built the first airplane to cross the sound barrier—has an even mix of commercial and military customers. Bell is also pioneering tilt rotor technology, a safer, faster aviation technology that enables an aircraft to take off like a helicopter but fly like a plane. The company has delivered more than 35,000 aircraft to customers around the world.
Despite its industry leadership, due to outdated and disparate back-office systems, Bell Helicopter was increasingly challenged to meet customer requirements. The situation was crystallized after a discouraging Defense Contract Management Agency (DCMA) audit that documented multiple deficiencies, resulting in a loss of market confidence in Bell Helicopter and, more tangibly, in a direct monetary hit in the form of contract withholdings.
As an industry-leading producer of helicopters, Bell Helicopter has many government and military customers and must meet rigorous federal procurement standards. Its commercial customers also demand high quality and strict delivery expectations. As such, effective project management for the company’s various design and development projects is a vital component in meeting customer requirements and expectations.
Bell Helicopter needed to undertake a complete transformation of its project management processes, an initiative that would require robust project management software. After careful evaluation, Bell Helicopter selected Oracle’s Primavera applications. With the help of Primavera and a significant culture shift to focus on earned value management (EVM), Bell Helicopter has significantly improved its performance. In 2009, DCMA returned for an audit and found Bell Helicopter to be compliant in all 32 evaluation areas, which placed the organization among only three other companies worldwide to achieve that level of proficiency. This achievement has restored customer confidence in Bell Helicopter and also enabled the company to recapture previously withheld payments.
“We have come a long way in improving our business. Implementing Oracle’s Primavera applications was a big step in the right direction. Oracle has helped us restore customer confidence in Bell Helicopter,” said Yancy Qualls, manager, Integrated Program Scheduling, Bell Helicopter Textron Inc.
Oracle’s Primavera P6 Enterprise Project Portfolio Management and Primavera Earned Value Management have helped Bell Helicopter to unify its cost and scheduling data and support EVM initiatives.
Previously, Bell Helicopter maintained its cost and scheduling data in numerous disparate, homegrown costing systems and an outdated Microsoft Projects scheduling system. If more than one scheduler wanted to work on a project at the same time, they had to create multiple schedule files. Also, there was no integration between cost and scheduling or among contracts, limiting visibility.
With as many as 150 concurrent projects and thousands of schedule lines in progress at any given time, Bell Helicopter’s previous system was simply not sustainable and had resulted in users operating in numerous shadow systems and spreadsheets.
With Primavera applications, Bell Helicopter can ensure its cost and schedule data are always aligned. Users can also collaborate via Primavera’s intuitive applications and link between contracts, ensuring that they are operating on the most up-to-date data. Bell Helicopter’s ability to conduct critical path analysis has significantly improved with Primavera’s automated features. Additionally, the Primavera applications can be integrated with third-party systems, enabling Bell Helicopter to interface with SAP and other financial systems.
In addition, Primavera provides a critical path through multiple linked projects to help give project managers the full picture on commercial accounts and better communicate project status to customers.
Another problem Bell Helicopter had faced was the lack of support for EVM—widely-regarded as a vital process for evaluating progress objectively. However, EVM was not a priority at Bell Helicopter prior to the business transformation.
“Many users did just enough to get by and say they were doing EVM, but then went back to their old habits,” Qualls said. “With the help of Primavera, we have taken EVM from something we did on the side because we had to and made it a key part of our business.”
Another area that Bell Helicopter has improved is risk analysis. The company was looking for a solution that would help it not only meet, but exceed, the requirements for probabilistic analysis of key contract completion dates under the U.S. government’s data item description (DID) document that defines the contractual requirements for all major defense contractors. The DID was the catalyst for Bell Helicopter to begin working on internal processes that would yield a stricter adherence to project management and risk management standards that exceeded government standards. Bell Helicopter also felt a solid risk analysis platform would serve to stabilize estimates and projections.
With Primavera Risk Analysis, Bell Helicopter can incorporate risk analysis processes into all projects, from proposals to in-progress projects to cost reduction initiatives. The Primavera tools help Bell Helicopter identify common scheduling pitfalls that may result in misleading schedule or risk analysis results and report confidence levels with regards to finish dates and costs, among other factors, improving the company’s ability to meet its cost/schedule targets.
“Now, we can more accurately predict the success of a project based on schedule and cost”, said Kim Herrington, vice president, Cost Management Integration, Bell Helicopter Textron Inc.
Stuart Retter, Bell Helicopter’s lead for integrating Risk Management and Earned Value Management, added, “Primavera Risk Analysis provides better metrics to improve our estimates and accuracies and gives us an early look at identifiable risks that will help us improve our target dates and more efficiently evaluate our business opportunities.”
Bell Helicopter completes approximately 30 risk assessments each month, some of which are contractually obligated and others which are conducted as a precautionary measure.
To further improve its EVM efforts, Bell Helicopter realized a need to document processes for future use. It created “EZ-EV,” a knowledge library of more than 3,500 documents covering everything from overviews on the Primavera tools to detailed, point-and-click directions.
Additionally, Bell Helicopter continues to improve its reporting capabilities. With a custom-built, web-based tool called Premier, the company has created a “one-stop shop” for project management data. Premier integrates data from the Primavera applications and combines it with data from other systems including Bell Helicopter’s financials, procurement, manufacturing, engineering, logistics, and quality systems, among others. Users can quickly and easily access key data including conditional metrics.
Primavera also enabled Bell to run monthly critical analysis reports that show resource availability and how shifts in inventory may affect scheduling. Bell can analyze eight projects in 10 seconds with Primavera, a functionality that was not previously available because it was too labor-intensive.
Further, before Primavera, Bell’s military customers decertified Bell’s EVM system. Post implementation, however, the company is referenced as an example for other military vendors to follow. One of its largest military customers referred to Primavera as “the Cadillac of project management systems.”
Bell Helicopter continues to improve the system and roll out new features.
Bell Helicopter needed software that was user friendly because user buy-in was essential. Second, it wanted solutions that integrated seamlessly with each other and provided timely, actionable data. Relatively easy integration with third-party systems was also vital. At the same time, the volume and size of Bell Helicopter’s projects required a robust solution. Perhaps most importantly, the system needed to provide the data required for Bell Helicopter to comply with the federal regulations that apply to its military and government contracts. Oracle’s Primavera applications met all of these needs.
“After an exhaustive evaluation process, we felt that the Primavera applications were the best choice to meet all of our business needs,” Qualls said.
Once Bell Helicopter made the decision to transform its project management approach, it realized that the right choice in software was critical. The company embarked on a year-long process of evaluating all of the products on the market and attending industry conferences. After considering other products including Artemis, Open Plan, MPM, and Dekker Trakker, Bell Helicopter selected Primavera. It then implemented Primavera andmigrated existing project data.
Advice from Bell Helicopter Textron Inc.
Pinnacle Management Systems Inc. worked with Bell Helicopter Textron to implement the Primavera applications, integrating the solution with multiple financial, production management, and manufacturing systems. Pinnacle also built custom modules addressing budget changes requests and risk management.