The Nature of Speed in Aerospace & Defense Manufacturing

Jessica Rivard, a Senior Business Analyst and Defense Sector expert at Cora Systems, looks at how the drive for continuous improvement can boost the speed of Aerospace & Defense Manufacturing

When it comes to Aerospace & Defense manufacturing it might seem counter-intuitive, but we were quicker at doing things in the sector during the Cold War than we are today.

For example, building an aircraft or a ship typically took about five years during the height of the Cold War. Fast forward to today: the F-35, for example, took 20 years of actual development after it was originally entered into service until it was finally deployed in combat.

The defense industrial base is under pressure to increase the speed at which they deliver products, while adhering to the same quality mandates. The heightened sense of urgency surrounding government contracts increases the importance of establishing and maintaining product, program, and organizational trust across the acquisition and execution teams (within the government, contractor, and auditing agencies).

There is a drive for continuous improvement in, for example, five key focus areas:

  1. Bid and estimating
  2. Change management
  3. Data integrity and continuity
  4. Workforce planning and retention
  5. Material management

How do you improve estimating?

Government contracting (GovCon) companies need to put forth competitive bids, but bids must be attainable by the execution team. Submitting a low bid that is unachievable is a disservice to both the GovCon company and government customer, which results in degraded trust.  Additionally, the auditing and oversight agencies – like Defense Contract Audit Agency (DCAA) and the Defense Contract Management Agency (DCMA) – who are monitoring and auditing program performance will scrutinize the lack of cost and schedule control and any deviation from contractually established values. Trust is the foundation of any team. If government customers (US Navy, US Army, etc.) don’t believe that what’s been bid can be accomplished, the team dynamics have been undermined.

How do you manage change effectively?

By clearly identifying upfront the cost that will be incurred through Design, Supply Chain, Scheduling, Planning, Manufacturing, and Quality phases, in areas such as labor, material, schedule disruption, rework, and burden, the GovCon entity establishes a basis for profitable work. However, when a change happens outside the planned build sequence the cost of the modification increases significantly. For example, if a change increases the diameter of an access point in a module, and the desired point of incorporate is erection, delaying the installation until the outfitting stage of construction would result in significant cost from material scrap, rework, retesting, and quite possibly schedule disruption. Effective modification management requires effective systems (people, processes, and technology) be in place to estimate, manage, track, and report effort throughout the business and across the change lifecycle.

How do you learn to trust the data, not your gut?

Historically, development of a proper bid or estimate relied on experienced people in an organization. Subject matter experts who knew the right questions to ask, shaped and drove the bid effort to completion. In recent years that expertise is not as easily accessible, due to retirement and the competitiveness of the job market. GovCon companies need to digitize bid and estimating know-how. By capturing the data related to developing, submitting, and winning/losing bids an organization establishes a digital corporate memory. Now, when key people leave the building, an organization retains the core data that informed their decisions. Enabling the continuation of informed decision-making based on a digitized knowledge base. Reliance on data-driven decisions is essential. It’s not that a gut feeling can’t be helpful, but it’s only as good as the gut.

How can you benefit from accurate workforce planning and resource management?

GovCon sector organizations need to have the workforce planning capability to be able to say, “I have all this demand coming in. Do I have the right staff to meet that demand? Do I need to staff up or staff down?” Resource managers need to optimize their department planning, based on actual project and internal demand. They then need to work with human resources to vet and acquire resources to ensure the supply meets the demand levels. The early and accurate definition of resource demand prepares organizations to staff properly, supporting project tasking requirements.

How can you profit from effective material management?

Effective management of material, on the initial contract and for any subsequent contract modifications, requires clear part definition, readily available supply, timely installation, appropriate quality assurance, good stewardship, and suitable cross-department communication. The cost of materials increases overall product cost (in labor and material) substantially if procured or delivered later than desired. Leveraging integrated systems to communicate material requirements and availability across your organization facilitates program performance success.

About the author

Jessica Rivard is a Senior Business Analyst at Cora Systems. She has spent over 15 years working in the defense sector.

Learn more

To find out how Cora helps aerospace & defense clients streamline their project management, why not watch a recorded demo at

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