Spirit AeroSystems Program Management Excels with Upgraded Earned Value Management Tools

March 25, 2024
Spirit Aerosystems

Spirit AeroSystems, based in Wichita, Kansas, is the world's largest first-tier aerostructures manufacturer. The company’s commercial division, 70 percent of its business, builds Boeing 737 fuselages, portions of Boeing 787 fuselages, the flight deck section of nearly all Boeing fuselages, and Airbus 350 fuselage sections and front wing spars, among others.

Spirit’s defense and space division, which started in 2014, produces parts for the Boeing B52 bombers, Sikorsky helicopters, and missile systems. It accounts for 20 percent of its business. The aftermarket division makes up 10 percent.

Spirit’s vision is to grow defense and space to 40 percent of its business. To achieve that lofty goal, the company sought an earned value management (EVM) tool to accomplish two primary objectives: provide the flexibility to support multiple manufacturing programs and the capacity to scale up the division.

The Challenge: Grounded by Technical Issues

In 2007-2008, Spirit implemented SAP as its ERP tool. By December 2015, the company had implemented an EVM tool for the commercial division that met its requirements of simplicity and the ability to access data from SAP.

By September 2017, Spirit had implemented the same EVM tool for defense and space, but it didn’t integrate well with SAP transaction codes, which contained only commercial flight data. Duplicate transaction codes resulted in the server running out of room to maintain data.

Spirit’s IT department expanded the server to its maximum size. However, the move was only a stopgap. If the division ran into problems so early, they knew the tool couldn’t expand without intervention.

Performance issues and data anomalies also surfaced. Simple reports took more than an hour to run. Reports and logs displayed anomalies in values. The tool’s supplier gave Spirit fixes, but some weren’t implemented because they wouldn’t synch with SAP’s configuration.

Spirit created several access databases to compensate for the issues, but because they had to import the same data into several databases and mine many databases to get the right data, they required more users and analysts.

In short, the tool was difficult to maintain and update.


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Up, Up, and Away with Deltek

In 2019, the team realized they could no longer believe in their own data. They assembled a business case and vowed to find, as Spirit’s David Graddy puts it, “the ultimate EVM tool.” After vetting numerous suppliers, Spirit purchased three Deltek tools in April 2021:

  • Cobra, earned value software with which Spirit analyzes and manages time-phased budgets, collects actual costs, and generates time-phased forecasts as well as variance and compliance reports.
  • PM Compass, business process automation software specifically for project management with which Spirit integrates scope, schedule, and cost information through a customizable workflow and alerting engine. PM Compass helps PMs manage change, maintain data integrity, deliver reliable performance, and focus on customer success.
  • Acumen Risk, with which Spirit performs schedule diagnostics and critical path analysis and centralizes risk/opportunity identification and management for well-informed planning and decision-making.

Having just won a new program, the Defense and Space division implemented the Deltek PPM solution in just three months. Using the new program as a test flight allowed Spirit to configure the system independent of the legacy tool issues.

The new configuration allowed Spirit to convert the program in the legacy tools to the Deltek solution. In the meantime, Spirit won two new defense programs. The company implemented the new programs in the Deltek suite in just 8.5 weeks. By August 2022, all four programs were off to a successful start.

Spirit enumerates several advantages of the Deltek suite over the legacy tools. With Deltek, Spirit could:

  • Establish standard methodologies and processes, ensuring that everyone performs the same actions the same way.
  • Benefit from tool flexibility to accommodate customer- and program-specific requirements.
  • Grow over time without stressing the tools.
  • Leverage expertise on Deltek tools that already existed at Spirit.
  • Enjoy an intuitive, easy-to-use tool.
  • Count on PM Compass to give the company accountability on baselines and performance through the various workflow.
  • Ensure traceability of workflow changes. PM Compass’s data warehouse accounts for all changes, noting who makes changes and when they are made. This data also facilitates project completion and cost forecasting.
  • Rely on Acumen and Cobra to provide schedule analytics and diagnostics that indicate exactly what’s going on.
  • Support program needs with readily understandable reports.

Cobra, PM Compass, and Acumen are fully integrated with SAP, Spirit’s book of records, and with Microsoft Project, Spirit’s scheduling tool of choice. As Charlene Randall, Spirit’s EVM focal point, says, “With Deltek, we eliminated extraneous databases and gave analysts time to do what they do best—analytical work. Spirit’s project managers know that PM Compass collects and contains all the data they need to successfully manage projects from the dashboard.”

Spirit created three unique configurations that enable the solution to serve Spirit’s business even more effectively:

  • The initial baseline for each project flows from MS Project into Cobra via the MS Project integrations and into PM Compass via the Budget Change Request (BCR) workflow. Cobra and PM Compass capture all logs and approvals. Spirit exports resource assignments from Cobra and uploads them back into MS Project. Spirit also created company-specific filters, views, and columns in Cobra. Reports are time phased by date, work package, control account, and other factors.
  • Since Spirit sets up burdens in SAP at the control account level, a customized configuration imports actual data so that users can see the data in their control panels, analyze it, and report on it.
  • Data is processed weekly and feeds into monthly reports. Spirit created custom reports in Cobra to drill deeper into project progress and forecasting—budget classes across projects, burden breakouts, and reports on hours rather than dollars. Variances typically appear on reports when a percent or value threshold is crossed; Spirit customized the process so that variances appear on reports only when they cross both thresholds.

Spirit changed the BCR in PM Compass to include multiple control accounts and uses the BCR to ensure baseline validity in Cobra and capture management approvals, giving the company a full audit trail and traceability. PM Compass includes BCR workflow changes for employees with no access to Cobra or MS Project.

Simply put, Spirit now has the capability to plan, execute, and assess project performance against baseline plans.


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The Sky’s the Limit

Spirit is excelling with Deltek. The IT team has recommended Deltek Open Plan, a schedule management solution with the power and flexibility to complete multiple medium-to-large projects on time and on budget. The team is also building a business case for the commercial division to convert from the legacy tools to the Deltek solution.

As Spirit’s Randall says, “With Deltek, Spirit is poised to win even more business and deliver more profitability by transforming projects into assets that contribute to our clients’ success.