Delivery Leadership for Airline Merger: PMO as a Managed Service
Case Study: Delivery Leadership
SITUATION & BUSINESS CHALLENGE
When a major American airline announced the acquisition of a large competitor, a multi-billion dollar quest began to merge the two carriers. To maximize benefits and efficiencies from the investment, the parent airline plotted a course to integrate both companies’ systems and processes instead of running them in parallel.
The massive undertaking would require changes in financial systems, flight operations systems, ground operations systems and applications, pilot and flight attendant scheduling applications, major changes in technical infrastructure to support additional traffic and load, as well as the sunsetting of the acquired airline’s technology and datacenter — all in accordance with strict deadlines and Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) guidelines.
Additionally, the airlines operated completely different fleets, one consisting entirely of Boeing 737s and the other Airbus A320 airplanes. This meant the parent airline’s applications and solutions for flight operations and maintenance needed to be modified to manage both types of planes.
After announcing the merger, airline executives worked to build a list of strategic business and technology-related projects that would need to be completed for the merger to be a success. The list would eventually grow to nearly 100 major projects to fully integrate and update both airlines’ systems into a single entity, laced with numerous paramount challenges:
- Time: With strict deadlines, there was no room for error. Most of the projects needed to be complete within 6 to 12 months, with critical deadlines pinned for the issuance of a single operating certificate for the combined airlines and the merging of both airlines into the same passenger-service system.
- Integrating essential business rules and functionality: For example, how to bring together the ranking and tenure for pilots and flight attendants from both airlines, also with respect to union and FAA policies. Methodologies needed to be derived for these functions for many additional employee group types to be merged into the parent airline.
- Different technology infrastructures: The airlines had completely different backend IT architectures. Transferring and merging essential applications and data would add an additional layer of complexity to the project.
- Lack of sufficient headcount: The volume of project managers (PMs) needed to complete these tasks was very high, far exceeding available PMs in the airline’s IT group.
The carrier needed a team of experienced project managers and technical analysts to lead the many dozens of simultaneous projects, whose size and moving parts would invariably change. It searched for a partner to provide a leadership layer to execute all levels of the project to fulfillment, and following a thorough vetting process of bids from companies that included several Big 5 firms, the airline selected AIM Consulting to lead the strategic engagement.
Several factors separated AIM from the competition, including its delivery leadership engagement model for project management that performs well at scale, its capability to hire proven industry veterans who precisely match a client’s culture and who remain throughout the duration of a project, its long relationship and history with the parent airline, and its attractive pricing model.
An AIM delivery-leadership solutions director, account director, principal consultant and AIM’s recruiting team delivered a managed-services engagement that included:
- Interviewing/vetting, hiring, onboarding, and mentoring 25 resources.
The resources included numerous program-level PMs running system migrations, infrastructure PMs responsible for datacenter and hardware upgrades and changes, and several database and financial-solutions PMs and analysts. The resources reported to and worked seamlessly within the IT services organization, slotting into existing project and PMO processes.
- Agile coaching, brown-bags on technical topics, and process improvement guidance throughout the engagement.
The IT organization’s data-services team received requirements from eight different stakeholder teams to make data changes in support of the merger. Due to varying delivery methodologies, the teams lacked consistency in making and meeting delivery commitments. AIM guided the team toward a more consistent Agile and Kanban delivery model by leading coaching and training sessions to help establish a new method of delivery whose value will last far beyond the merger.
- Meeting a fixed delivery timeline in a regulated industry.
The AIM resources’ level of experience and industry knowledge enabled the organization to meet every delivery deadline expediently, leading to smooth transition of elements in accordance to federal, union and industry guidelines. Among these elements were changes in the acquired airline’s call signs and airplane tail numbers; merging numerous ground and flight operations systems; transforming all branding and signage consistently to the parent airline; redirecting all web traffic, call-center activity, airport kiosk usage, and mobile-app traffic to the parent airline, and more.
Additionally, AIM PMs guided the complex task of assessing, inventorying and managing the transfer of all pertinent applications and solutions from the acquired airline to the parent airline, ensuring essential functionality was transferred and that proper training and documentation were in place to prepare both parties for the transfers.
AIM simultaneously led dozens of projects through requirements exercises, planning sessions, expert tracking, and communicating project status and health with stakeholders. Toward this end, the client had selected a project portfolio management system from Smartsheet to help manage all of the workstreams. The AIM team quickly embraced the Smartsheet solution and created trainings and standards for project tracking and reporting that are now used throughout the organization
The final major piece of the merger was set in place when all passenger-service systems, including flight reservations systems, mobile apps, and airport branding and signage, were integrated into the parent airline. The acquired airline’s backend architecture and datacenter remained online for compliance reasons for a set time, then entered a dormant state before being shut down permanently.
AIM’s delivery leadership engagement model and its unique ability to match experienced resources to a client’s culture and processes were the key success factors leading to the flawless merger. Throughout the entire engagement, AIM provided the right resources who were versed in technology and business and able to quickly blend into the client’s workplace and processes.
Following the passenger-service system integration, airline executives provided upbeat accounts of project success to the press. There were no negative customer impacts at any time during the merger.
Several AIM PMs remained to lead additional projects, including an expansion of the airline’s flight operations center, sunsetting certain technologies, expanding the airline’s datacenter, and more.