Is more or less best?


Garnet Ridgway: Although unnecessarily bureaucratic or over-rigorously enforced regulation and processes can undoubtedly be a burden on aerospace testing professionals, the assumption that ‘less is more’ does not necessarily hold true.

Aerospace testing can, by nature, be extremely hazardous. Well-established processes provide a robust layer of risk mitigation at all stages of the testing lifetime by shifting a portion of the burden of responsibility from individual team members to the process itself. For example, if a key team member is suddenly unavailable, the audit trail provided by a known process having been followed can enable testing to continue without compromising safety. The same audit trail also provides a framework for establishing accountability in the event of an accident, something that is essential in the prevention of further occurrences.

Aside from the safety implications, detailed process and regulation can assist collaboration between different organizations for testing activities. For example, it may be the case that such organizations share common or equivalent processes for risk management, test briefing or trials implementation; this reduces the lead time (and therefore cost) of collaborative testing. Such benefits are unlikely to be realized by a collection of individuals developing their own processes outside of a central framework. 

Having well-defined processes to follow can also benefit the professional development of team members within a testing organization. Due to the safety issues associated with aerospace testing, the concept of taking charge of such tasks can be somewhat daunting for a junior engineer. Well-thought-out processes can provide a step-by-step guide that means junior team members can take on greater responsibility than may otherwise be the case; and because the process itself takes some of that burden, safety is not compromised.

Although much bemoaned by members of the aerospace testing community (including, on occasion, the authors of this column), a reasonable layer of well-thought-out process and regulation can bring a significant number of important benefits. Surely increased risk mitigation, more coherent collaboration, smoother professional development and less personal stress are worth the inconvenience of ticking a few extra boxes? 

Garnet Ridgway has a PhD from the University of Liverpool. He has designed cockpit instruments for Airbus and currently works for a leading UK-based aircraft test and evaluation organization. 

Sophie Robinson: The world of test and evaluation is one that is becoming increasingly bureaucratic and overpopulated with middle men, whose role seems to be to make the life of a test engineer more about filling in forms than actually getting out into the real world and testing something (just look at the column on the left). Imagine your working day without bureaucracy. No forms to fill out, fewer boxes to tick – you’d probably have time to actually get things done!

The world of test and evaluation is filled with vastly experienced people. T&E companies should know their people, their capabilities and their experience – and should trust them to do their jobs and do them well. It shouldn’t be necessary for engineers to have to prove their capability every time a new task falls on to their desk; if they’re suitably qualified and experienced, let them do their thing! Time freed up from documenting competencies and ticking boxes could be used to mentor less experienced co-workers or spent on continued professional development, further returning value to the business.

Reducing regulation and bureaucracy also makes our business more agile and reactive to change. For example, if a small change is required in a test program, maybe to add a test point to the test matrix, it’s not uncommon for the form-filling and box-ticking to authorize the new activity to take longer than the activity itself. A five-hour task can rapidly spiral into a 50-hour task when approvals have to be sought and forms rubber stamped.

Increasing the agility of our business will inevitably lead to higher customer satisfaction; jobs are done more quickly and efficiently, with no loss of quality.

Leanness is, in general, an attribute that both businesses and their customers find desirable; reducing expenditure of time and money on any activity that doesn’t create value should be a target for elimination. The test and evaluation business is no different, and regulation and bureaucracy is a prime target for waste reduction. Customers want results, not neatly filled-in forms.

Of course, it would be impossible to argue for the elimination of all regulation in our industry – we still need some process and guidelines to function safely. But it is essential to maintaining our competitiveness and edge that we must seek to minimize bureaucracy in order to grow and, most importantly, to keep

us as engineers happy.  

Sophie Robinson is currently finishing her PhD as part of the Flight Science and Technology Research Group within the Centre for Engineering Dynamics at Liverpool University. In the course of her research, Sophie regularly works with test pilots.

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