How one unique internship helped improve our business
Doctoral thesis positively influences the performance of product development projects
When Marc St-Georges, Senior Analyst, Strategy and Development from Bombardier’s Advanced Technology Office (ATO), was preparing to mentor doctoral candidate Erika Souza De Melo, who was doing an internship at Bombardier, he wasn’t quite sure what to expect from the experience.
“I’d supervised over a dozen interns since 2010, but this was my first experience mentoring a doctoral candidate and helping shape a university thesis publication,” he explained. “It was different, in a positive way. Typically, we only have a few months, so the mandate only touches the surface in scope and deliverables. This time, the internship paralleled the duration of the project. Erika was with us for close to a year and a half, which meant she was more vested in seeing the end results of our project and participating in its conclusions.”
And the conclusion turned out to be something incredible for both Erika and our business. As organizations struggle to efficiently manage complex product development projects, and engineering design rework is among the causes that contribute to poor performance, the focus of Erika’s research was to evaluate the variables that influence the engineering design rework and provide a set of recommended practices. And amazingly, through her research, she identified five key guiding principles that could positively influence the performance of these important projects.
“What really made this the best match, though, was that Bombardier was undertaking a product development project post-mortem assessment when I had the opportunity to present my research project. And voila – an instantaneous match,” Erika explained. “Everything that I was seeing and hearing during my internship was connected to my research, which included confirmations of subjects that I’d read, identification of new challenges not covered in the academic studies and so on. As far as I’m aware, nobody has presented the information as I did, and I’m happy and proud about this.”
Working together to stay current
As a mentor, Marc was thrilled with the way the internship developed and what was uncovered with Erika’s research, noting that the benefits to the business cannot be underscored.
“The science of management in complex aerospace product development projects is sparsely covered in existing specialized research publications. There are not a lot of academic papers that treat the impact of engineering rework in highly complex product development, like an aircraft program,” he said, explaining that in such a highly regulated industry, knowledge tends to remain within each organization as part of proprietary processes, or that most case studies were only described through news articles that relied on recounted events or hypothetical conclusions drawn from observers.
As a forward-looking organization exploring future applications, we need to understand what is state-of-the-art in product development to be able to modernize and find new and better ways of working in the future.”
- Marc St-Georges, Senior Analyst, Strategy and Development, ATO
“We discovered a massive amount of non-aerospace related case studies and publications on other major projects of similar investment value. These described similar problems and challenges and introduced new ways of resolving the complex project management issues. Working with post-graduate interns that are doing advanced research in this field provides an opportunity to access these information sources. It’s a very good way to stay current and increase our collective knowledge.”
Making sure it’s a good fit
Picking the right candidate is key for an internship like this, notes Marc. And Erika was a perfect fit for Bombardier, not only because of the area of her research, but because she also had extensive experience in both the aerospace and automotive industries, having interned at Delphi Automotive Systems and worked at Airbus Helicopters and Embraer Executive Jets.
“I felt that we needed and wanted Erika to contribute to a different kind of Lessons Learned than what was historically produced. Typically, they’re geared towards understanding and bettering the engineering process and technical decision-making, and while this is important, I wanted to take advantage of her unique profile and direct her study more towards the project dynamics, to have a look at how the work was organized and identify behavioural patterns that needed improvements,” he said. “Because Erika’s field of study is related to a novel approach to project management, called Soft System Thinking, we were able to use this new approach to analyze data and gain a coherent appreciation of the Global 7500 development program using a more complete view of all contributing factors that impacted the project. Based on the data and information made available, she was able to build an entire causality map. She then applied the Soft System Thinking approach to uncover a set of behavioural archetypes and generate a complete causal loop model that represents the entire project lifecycle. With this, we were able to highlight different key factors that can play a significant role in improving future development programs.”
Benefiting both the student and our business
“I can state that it was an amazing experience and a one-of-a-kind opportunity in my life. I’m glad that I was prepared and it was the right time to do it,” said Erika, who defended her thesis on February 24 and became a Doctor of Business Administration graduate of Université du Québec à Trois-Rivières following her Bombardier internship. She also noted what an important part her mentor played in making the internship an exceptional and beneficial experience for her. “Marc was my gift in the internship. He was always patient and I don’t have the words to describe how grateful I am to have his implication in my research. He cares about the work he is delivering. Because of that, my standards are now higher and I thank him for everything that he taught me.”
And while this internship experience was definitely different than any of the others he’s mentored, Marc agrees that it absolutely surpassed any and all of his expectations.
“Working with Erika showed me that post-graduate interns can bring significant value. I really appreciated the knowledge-sharing and I was able to discover sources of information in the field of business management that I was not previously familiar with,” he said. “I want to thank Erika for electing to do her research with us. Her contribution is greatly appreciated and is already being put to good use at Bombardier.”
The five key guiding principles that Erika identified to positively influence the performance of product development projects are:
Institute an extensive and robust product requirement process
Secure the appropriate experts and talent throughout the project
Challenge the reuse of previous project data
Ensure coherent sequencing of development activities
Clearly distinguish the condition of technical data (preliminary versus validated) used by interdependent teams