Volume 03, Issue 6
|Integrated Defense Systems|
PIA is A-OK
Program Independent Assessment is a big part of IDS' Mission Assurance. Here's how it works and why it helps
BY RICHARD ESPOSITO
The F/A-18 program's success stems not only from the aircraft's superior performance but also from on-time, at-cost aircraft deliveries.
Indeed, the F/A-18 program's achievements are a testament to Boeing's Program Independent Assessment process, a program management best practice used by Integrated Defense Systems. The PIA process has a simple objective: Uncover and analyze program risk areas early enough to avoid them with minimal or no effect on schedule and cost, and do this in a spirit of cooperation and support.
Technical expertise is, of course, critical in assessing programs: PIA evaluators must be senior people who possess relevant technical skills and a knowledgeable background in the topic area. Even more important is the ability to win the professional respect of the teams being evaluated.
"When you conduct a PIA, your job is to help the program succeed. So you need to keep your emotions in check and try to be supportive and helpful," said Andy Razavi, an engineer who's the F/A-18 PIA lead and the PIA subject-matter expert for Integrated Defense Systems. "Your attitude and your integrity are critical to building trust and developing team ownership of your recommendations."
PIA is a Mission Assurance process in IDS. Generally speaking, Mission Assurance is a disciplined engineering process aimed at identifying and mitigating risks that otherwise could affect success. PIA embodies those concepts in its process-which emphasizes independent nonadvocate reviews and makes recommendations to program management.
PIA criteria have proven their worth through the years. The PIA process began in the early 1990s on the F/A-18 program, when the U.S. Navy customer decided develop an advanced version that was more survivable, had better range and improved offensive and defensive capabilities. This led to the model E/F program road map.
The Navy wanted assurance that the E/F program had processes in place ensure success, Razavi said. Lessons learned from the A-12 program cancellation suggested the need for "a greater spirit of independence for program reviews."
Thus the PIA process was born. PIA evaluators were given the authority and autonomy to look at every piece of information and attend every meeting necessary to provide a set of topics that predicted risk in the program, Razavi said.
"It was a forward-looking activity. If evaluators believed a noteworthy risk was there, it provided them the ability to put together a team of independent experts to look into it," he said.
"The goal was, and still is, total independence, beyond the influence of the program manager," Razavi said.
The selection of potential problem areas to be evaluated-known as "topics," in PIA parlance-is critical to PIA success. Topics selected for evaluation must constitute risk, be well-defined and be "bounded." Bounded topics are those that can be solved in a reasonable time frame. They are more likely to have a definitive outcome because they deal with the individual components of a larger situation or potential problem, rather than tackle a complex issue as a whole.
With a set of appropriately scoped topics, each PIA recommendation has a greater likelihood of being "a concise statement of fact that clearly highlights an issue's potential impact to program health," Razavi said.
Tony Parasida, who now manages the Multi-mission Maritime Aircraft (MMA) Program, knows the PIA process well from his earlier days with the F/A-18 and then as manager of the V-22 Osprey program. More recently Parasida served as vice president of Program Management for IDS.
Thanks in part to PIA, within a six-month period the V-22 program's performance moved "from mundane to excellent in cost and schedule, and our customer-satisfaction metrics went up in the process," Parasida said.
"It's good to have that independent look at the program with a critical eye, seeing what is happening with all its metrics, people and processes," he added. "PIA picks out the things that can come back and bite you, and does it in enough time for you to address whatever you find."
Parasida cited a PIA success story involving the development of a new flight-deck display for the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet. The stakes were high both for Boeing and a program supplier in a high-risk development effort with an aggressive schedule and little margin.
The Super Hornet team used the PIA to understand the challenge and look at potential issues, and developed backup plans in case of failures. The PIA process let the team work proactively with the supplier to head off possible failures, Parasida said: "We ended up with on-time delivery and didn't need to implement a challenging, cost-prohibitive backup plan that would've caused impacts to delivery and fleet performance."
Boeing customers and suppliers are encouraged to participate in, or suggest topics for, PIA evaluations. "In everything we do the customer is involved," Razavi said. As a result, customers have noted the value of the PIA process. "Our MMA customer is excited about implementing PIA on that program," Parasida said.
Razavi "has established himself as a trusted agent within the U.S. Navy community," said Chris Chadwick, F/A-18 program manager. "In fact, he has been asked to participate in PIAs on internal Navy issues. That's a testament to how much they trust him."
Like Razavi, Parasida also stressed the importance for PIA evaluators to have good "people skills" in addition a solid technical background.
"PIA evaluators must be technically strong, have great communication skills and the right attitude. The key is an ability to work together to identify issues and risks and solve them as a team," he said. "So PIA doesn't mean someone comes in, reviews your program and then steps away. It means someone comes in, does the reviews and then helps you get to the finish line."
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