Project completed – what now?

Lufthansa IOCC - Controlling the skies

The author has written this series of blogs to provide interesting insights into project management in the airline industry. In his third post, he uses a vivid example to illustrate the difference between a project and day-to-day work.

1. Intro

It is a Wednesday in November 2018 at the same Operations Control Center (OCC) already featured in the first two blog posts in this series.

A routine has been established since the new planning and control system mentioned in the first blog post became operational with the schedule changeover.

Any schedule changes made due to irregularities such as delays or diversions caused by adverse weather or technical problems are coordinated at the OCC.

Next door, medium-term aircraft rotation planning is underway based on the route network and the allocation of specific aircraft. At the same time, the flight deck and cabin crews required for these flights are identified and the corresponding crew members are assigned by name.


2. (Routine) operations

The activities described above form part of the day-to-day work or regular operations of the aforementioned departments. In doing so, they use the tools available to them day after day, week after week, month after month and year after year. Their most important resource is the planning and control software that became operational just over a month earlier. In fact, “resource” is an extremely understated way of describing the comprehensive and powerful functionality this software offers.

Routine operations, or simply “operations” for short, are defined by regular, repeated, similar processes. Even if an aircraft is diverted to Copenhagen because of poor weather, or another aircraft is redirected to Geneva, a solution must be found both to provide an aircraft and crew at the original destination as well as for the aircraft and crews at the “wrong” airport. An interesting article on the processes in an OCC can be found here:

These processes are also repeated in other areas such as crew planning. As a result, a new roster has to be created each month.


3. Projects and operations: the differences

We can use the OCC example to highlight the differences between projects and operations. The characteristics of a project have already been discussed in detail in the first project management blog.

-> Processes

  • A project is characterized by its uniqueness.
  • By contrast, operations return to the same or similar processes over and over again.

-> Objective

  • In a project, the objective is to produce a unique, one-off delivery object.
  • Routine operations also pursue a goal: to carry out processes continuously in the same way without disruptive influences or even outages in order to prevent any additional costs that may arise as a result.

-> Timeframe

  • A project should be completed by a defined target date.
  • The duration of operations is not limited at the outset. The same software system can be operated for one, two or even five years. Some, such as banking software from the 1960s and 1970s, can even be operated for several decades.

-> Resource utilization

  • Implementing a project means using resources and incurring costs.
  • Costs are also incurred when operating a product. In addition to personnel costs for employees who work with the software system, there are also consumption costs such as power, rent, licenses and hardware maintenance.


4. Product lifecycle

If we look more closely at the different characteristics of a project, the line between a project and routine operations becomes clear.

A product is operational from the moment from which it is used for its true purpose. To put it another way, the project is complete and operations begin from the moment when the results of the project begin to earn money.

In our example, this means that operations only begin once the new planning and control software becomes available for planning and management and the first flight carrying paying passengers is planned and completed.

In this context, you may well ask: “Can operations also come to an end?” The answer is a resounding “yes”, and the same applies to the above example. If a company is no longer earning money with the product, its operations – but not its lifecycle – come to an end.

This is because, with regard to our example, there are still computers in a data center that are no longer required, and monitors and input devices at different workplaces that are no longer used.

This infrastructure must now be retired. As a result, this period is also referred to as ‘retirement’. This retirement has all the characteristics of a project:

  • It is a one-off (the entire infrastructure of this particular software system)
  • It pursues a goal (creating space and appropriately disposing of the old hardware)
  • An end date can be defined (when the old infrastructure is no longer available)
  • Staff are assigned to the retirement and transport and disposal costs are incurred (use of resources)

Ultimately, even the retirement itself should be regarded as a project in its own right.

We have now outlined the three stages of the product lifecycle:

  1. Project
  2. Operations
  3. Retirement

Operations generally make up the longest stage of the product lifecycle, while retirement is quicker than the project.

In the example described above, the project lasted from October 2017, when the decision to introduce new planning and control software was made, until go-live at 00:00 local time on October 28, 2018. The system is expected to remain operational for several years. Retirement of the previous system, including disposal, took approximately one month.

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